Ravichandran Ashwin: Turning things, unlike his way
Imagine yourself in a jammed traffic signal that gives you less than 5 seconds for green. Trying to check time, you find your chained wrist watch turned upside down and to make it worse, a guy very close to your left arm makes it difficult to twist your wrist in the usual anticlockwise direction to check the time. To avoid a clash with the fellow biker, you now have to do a Chinaman, in cricketing terms to fulfill your immediate need. Even the champion spinner like Ravichandran Ashwin nows finds himself in the similar situation with the only difference is that being a right arm bowler, one can assume the watch on his right wrist.
One of the most dominating bowlers and top-ranked among right arm spinners in the Test arena, Ravi Ashwin was seen working out the variations of a wrist spinner in the Vijay Hazare match vs Gujarat. He finished the game with figures of 2 for 38 in 9.1 overs.
This was happening amidst India's success with young wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav over the last few months, especially with their complete domination over Proteas batting line-up in the ongoing India tour of South Africa 2018( at least till third ODI). Ashwin appreciated the team's effort with a special mention to the wrist spinners in his tweet.
While it's a breeze to trouble the batsmen in Tests throughout his career, the bowling all-rounder seems to be in deep water in the shorter formats. He was last seen donning the blue jersey against West Indies on July 9, 2017. The off-spinner's form in the shorter formats was ordinary, compared to the standards he set at the Test level, yet not worrisome. The main reason for his absence in the shorter formats would be the tilt towards the current trend over his ordinary form.
The finger spinners who have dominated for a decade or so in the format are now every batsman's wish for dinner with the featherbeds, heavy bats, shorter boundaries and turning ball land almost in the swinging arc of the batsmen. With the current scenario, wrist-spinners seem to have upper hand over the batsmen compared to their fellow finger spinning counterparts. Hence they are touted to be the next big thing in the cricket, at least in the colored formats.
Like a software developer, who is expected to work with multiple technologies, Ashwin had to shed his technique as off-spinner (not his experience) and learn afresh on leg-spin to survive in the colored formats. Yes, rather than being dead in the water, he chose to evolve. Thus, the platform was set for the cricketing student known to constantly add new ammunation to his armory.
The winner of ICC's Cricketer of the Year 2016 did not take this long to sense the shift in the game. He was well-aware of the situation and had kicked off the learning process well before two years. According to him, bowling leg-break was not alien to him either as he had his hand at it during the tender stage of his career. "I used to bowl good leg-breaks with my off-spin action when I was playing league cricket in Chennai. ", he said. His affinity towards evolving, when the situation demands is always evident from his words. "Having bowled off-break as the stock ball for almost 10 years, trying to change things around is challenging. But I don't really settle for anything. At no point in my career, I thought 'this is it' and decided to settle for the rest of my career."
However, the path was not smooth as one expects. He had to unlearn few of his current methods. With his current action more upright, he wanted to change that to be 45 degrees which he thought would be perfect for the leg-spinner. As a leg-spinner, he also had to be master of few other than leg-breaks: googly, flipper, topspin and zooter, if ever existed. He also is said to have gone through a couple of sessions with his longtime friend, state teammate Guru Kedarnath. One involving the holding grip of the ball and other for a longer spell with an imaginary field been set up.
His efforts have received praise from his former international counterparts, Daniel Vettori and Monty Panesar. Vettori was confident that Ashwin will do good with the updated skill set. Panesar was even inspired by Ashwin's efforts to a level that he himself will try to add a new variation to his spin in the next County season.
Confident of honing the dexterity of leg-spin, he has decided to take it a whole new stage in the upcoming IPL season. Part of Kings XI Punjab this season, Ashwin will not only be looking forward to the unveiling of the leg-spinning deliveries to go with his traditional off-spinners but also will be looking to rise to the challenge on the big stage.
However it turns out to be, the Tamil Nadu spinner will persevere to innovate and tame the batters analogous to the tenacious spider which despite any untoward situation, clings on with its oozing web and still catches its prey.