Ishant Sharma’s 30-run over and India’s inability to keep the Australians down in the death overs at Mohali has meant that all the talk has been on the pacers.
But the fact that Ravichandran Ashwin has failed to make an impact, is something that has played a role in India’s defeats this series. His figures — 2/55 (10), 1/50 (8), 0/58 (9) — indicate that the off-spinner has not given skipper MS Dhoni any kind of control in the middle overs of the innings, a phase where he would ideally like to keep the batsman in check, considering India’s traditional problems in bowling at the death.
Erapalli Prasanna, speaking to The Indian Express, suggests that bowling with the new ball or having fewer fielders on the boundary is not so much the problem as inaccurate bowling.
“Ashwin doesn’t have the ability to bowl to his field. You can try many things but you have to ensure that at least 60 per cent of the times it must work. Having just four fielders outside the circle does not give a spinner much room to experiment but under pressure he is trying too many different things, losing his line and length in the process. He has to learn to bowl to his field, because he no longer holds any mystery,” Prasanna said.
Overshadowed by Jadeja
The virtue of keeping things simple, on the other hand, has been illustrated by Ashwin’s spin colleague in the team, Ravindra Jadeja. Jadeja has made up for his poor form with the bat, contributing with his left-arm spin in Pune and Mohali. He returned with the figures of 1/35 in 10 overs and 1/31 in 10 overs respectively, bowling stump-to-stump and to his field.
“New balls from both ends shouldn’t be a factor. We played under the same rules in the World Series Cricket in Australia in 1985 and won the tournament. The spinners had laid the foundations of our wins, though they were very well supported by the medium pacers. The first three matches in the ongoing series were played on batting-friendly pitches. It would be wise to stick to the basics in such conditions,” he added.
Ashwin’s Ranji coach W V Raman, however, said he expected Ashwin to adjust soon to the new rules.
“Ashwin has reached a stage when it is expected of him to deliver each and everytime he plays. But don’t get panicky. Bowling has always been a difficult job in limited-overs cricket in Indian conditions and just four fielders outside the ring have made lives difficult for every spinner. But he’s a good learner and I expect him to make adjustments as the series progresses. Also, it has been a collective failure as far as bowling is concerned and it’d be very unfair to zoom into an individual. In any case, an economy rate of six (6.03 to be precise) is not too bad in these conditions,” Raman defended his ward.
But isn’t Ashwin experimenting a little too much? “If his variations would have come off he would have been praised. Because he is not getting wickets regularly he is being criticised. Every player can have a bad game or two,” Raman said.
Also, in this bowling set up, Ashwin (61 ODIs) is the most experienced bowler. The 27-year-old still does not have the maturity of a Harbhajan Singh or Graeme Swann and could do with the assistance of the bowling coach. But Joe Dawes, a medium pacer during his playing days, mainly looks after members of his own ilk in the bowling pack. Perhaps the time has come for the BCCI to think about a spin bowling expert within the coaching staff.