The stage was set for Ravichandran Ashwin to catapult India into a formidable position. India had taken a slender first innings lead. He was about to confront a batting line that was short of confidence and inept against spin bowling. He had a pitch that was aiding turn, there were prominent foot-marks on the length that was ideal for him to bowl into and he had the confidence of the captain.
Six and half hours later after toiling for 35 overs, Ashwin returned with figures of 1-78. To say it was a disappointment would be an understatement. So where did it go wrong? This is an imaginative spinner and has over 300 Test scalps.
Virat Kohli had even tossed Ashwin the hard new ball to start the proceedings. The third ball pitched on a perfect length, drew Alistair Cook forward and fizzed past the outside edge to be pouched hip high by Rishab Pant. Commentating on the radio, former England spinner Phil Tufnell said, “Wow Ashwin is going to have some fun on this pitch”.
After a couple of overs, Ashwin was out of the attack. By the time he returned to the bowling crease England had lost two wickets, the lead had just exceeded over 20. It was Ashwin‘s second chance to spin a web around the English batsmen. He continued bowling around the wicket to the left-handed Jennings, but instead of slowing it down and getting the bite off the surface, he pushed the ball through with a flatter trajectory. Against the right-handers, he had a lovely rough patch to aim into, but throughout the day he kept missing the mark.
It was the day for simplicity and not over complication. All that was required was for him to deliver ball after ball into the rough patch and let it do its magic. It was approximately on the line of the sixth stump and on a driveable length. But instead of bowling that sixth stump line, Ashwin continued to pitch the ball on the fourth stump or even on the off-stump line. There were far too many variations. There was the carrom ball, the slider, and top-spinner, but rarely did we see the classical off-spinner with minor changes of pace constantly pitching into the rough.
It certainly didn‘t help Ashwin‘s cause that England had a left-hander at the crease throughout the day. But it wasn‘t like the ace spinner had problems against the southpaw batsmen. In fact, statistics show Ashwin is equally proficient against left-handers and he has dismissed more left-handed batsmen than right-handers in Test cricket.
So then why was the Indian spinner so ineffective when his counterpart Moeen Ali had been so successful only a day earlier? According to hawk-eye data, Moeen Ali bowled slightly slower and only bowled four deliveries in excess of 55mph. On the contrary, nearly half of Ashwin deliveries were over 55mph. Both of them are different bowlers, but it is important for a spinner to know what pace to bowl at and somehow Ashwin had misread the surface.
It was perhaps a day Ashwin had oversmarted himself. This was the day, Kohli needed to put his arm around his senior pro and tell him to execute a simple plan of bowling into the rough. Maybe for a man with such a creative mind like Ashwin, it was difficult to keep it so straightforward. In the end, Ashwin had an ordinary outing.
As the day progressed, it was also evident that Ashwin was clearly hampered by some injury. For finger spinners to impart revolutions on the ball, one must be able to pivot on the front foot and drag the hip across the leading leg. It is simply impossible to be effective with only fingers putting the purchase on the ball. After a few overs, it was obvious that Ashwin was not completing his action. Local Broadcaster Sky Sports even showed a split screen of his action from the first Test compared to the fourth Test and it was evident that Ashwin was struggling to put his body into the action.
Two days before the match, Ashwin was seen just bowling off a couple of steps. Rarely did he bowl with a full run-up and a nice pivot. If he was not 100 per cent fit, it begs the question as to why the team management played him in the match.
At the conclusion of the play, Cheteshwar Pujara defended his teammate, suggesting that Ashwin was a tad unlucky and the slowness of the pitch had worked against him. Either way, it was still disappointing to see Ashwin not have a huge impact on the match on a pitch that was tailor-made for him.
Maybe we will only get the real reflection of the pitch once Moeen Ali bowls on it on the fourth day. If he can prosper, then it is fair to say Ashwin has had a meltdown when India required him the most.
Updated Date: Sep 02, 2018 09:32 AM