Ravichandran Ashwin needs to answer countless criticisms, again
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A few weeks ago, when Ravichandran Ashwin was not licking his wounds from being incessantly left out of the Indian Test playing eleven against England, he was rejoicing in his return to the T20I fold, after more than four years in the desert.
At the time, it seemed like an inspired move, considering Ashwin has probably been in his prime as an international bowler for the past two years. It seemed to be better equipped to handle adverse conditions.
That, combined with his eagerness to prove people wrong and to prove that conventional fingers still deserve a place in T20 cricket, meant that thousands of people had started pinning their hopes on Ashwin.
Since then, however, the wave of optimism has stalled dramatically. Not because a lot of cricket happened in that period, but also because Ashwin, who was regarded as the solution to most dilemmas, only ended up opening a different Pandora’s box of trouble altogether.
Over the next month, that could be something the Indian cricket team worries about as well. For now though, it’s a headache the Delhi Capitals could have done without, especially with a definitive clash against the Kolkata Knight Riders in Indian Premier League Qualifier 2.
More than a decade ago, when Ashwin burst onto the scene with the Chennai Super Kings, he looked like a skilled enough bowler to defend himself, regardless of the situation and the type of batters in front of him. Very often, he dug deep into his bag of tricks and almost always pulled out the right delivery to outmaneuver hitters.
In the process, he gained a great reputation and was even India’s favorite bowler in the early 2010s, with MS Dhoni (his CSK patron too) using him brilliantly.
In recent years, however, Ashwin has been dissuaded from the aspects that made him successful in the first place. In the early 2010s, the spinner regularly relied on his drift, dip, and cunning to fool hitters. He was also very happy to continue tossing his common ball (the spinning wheel) before using the carrot ball as a variation.
During the current season alone, Ashwin has seemed hell-bent on wanting to throw as many variations as humanly possible in the six-ball space. He has tried the spinning wheel, bottom cutter, over-spin spinning wheel, carrom ball, carrom ball from the width of the crease, and has even thrown balls where his tracking ends in front of the referee.
Ravichandran Ashwin has missed his full quota of overs three times in the United Arab Emirates
Unsurprisingly, the Capitals have not been overjoyed by Ashwin’s constant changes and cuts, something that could even have led to a lack of confidence. In fact, in the 7 games DC has played in the UAE leg so far, the veteran has shot his quota of four overs only four times.
At other times, Rishabh Pant has had to rely on players like Marcus Stoinis (against Sunrisers Hyderabad), Ripal Patel (against Royal Challengers Bangalore) and Tom Curran (against CSK). That, however, has come at the cost of the balance of the Capitals team, who in their quest to accommodate a fail-safe bowling option for Ashwin, have come across as a light hitter.
In Qualifying against CSK, the Capitals opted for Tom Curran, despite the Englishman’s limitations as a hitter. To make up for it, they had to field Axar Patel at No. 4 just to lengthen his batting order and make sure Rishabh Pant and Shimron Hetmyer weren’t expendable during the first half of innings.
Also, there has been a reluctance to pitch Ashwin against right-handers, which seems a bit paradoxical at first considering his greatness, but makes a lot of sense considering how he’s bowled this season.
Against right-handed hitters, the off-spinner is averaging 97 (yes, this is not a bug) and has only taken two wickets. Interestingly, one of those scalps was Robin Uthappa, a hitter who smashed Ashwin in Qualifier. Meanwhile, the economy’s rate hovers around the 8.2 race mark.
When facing left-handed hitters, the corresponding economy rate is considerably lower (6.3 vs. 8.21). However, the wicket count is relatively sterile, with Ashwin having only had 3 left-handed hitters.
So it could be argued that the one that isn’t spinning might not be tapping into its true potential. And, as much as you’d like to say that you don’t always look for wickets in T20 cricket and that this is your role, five wickets throughout an edition are probably not what DC or the Indian cricket team would have been hoping for. .
What’s more telling, though, is that there have been glimpses of Ashwin lately. Remember, the veteran rarely gets nervous and usually performs at his best when cornered. However, in recent games, that doesn’t seem to be the particular case.
Against CSK, there was one case where Ashwin deliberately abandoned his bowling game, just to see if Ruturaj Gaikwad made his way down the lane. Moments later, Gaikwad withdrew from his posture and made Ashwin wait.
That was not the end. In the next about DC bowling, he repeated the entire process, perhaps to show he was one step ahead of the batter. Gaikwad didn’t react this time, but the lack of focus meant that Ashwin was pushed by a limit and a high by Robin Uthappa.
While there is no law specifying that Ashwin’s actions were illegal or not in the “spirit of the game,” it certainly says a lot about where the player is on track right now.
He wants to get ahead of hitters, something for which he has always been known. However, the lack of windows and lack of trust shown in him by the higher ups at DC has left Ashwin a bit shaken, so much so that he’s not counting on the elements that made him a household name in the first place. Instead, you have been furiously searching for a solution that is simply not available.
From a broader perspective, nothing would please the DC and the faithful Indians more than Ashwin bowling at the peak of his powers. In red ball cricket, that has also been the case for the past two years.
However, in cue ball cricket, a bit of rust and a lack of clarity about what might work is probably weighing you down. The fact that there have been several questions about its recent inclusion has not helped either.
With that being said, the off-spinner is still one of the smartest cricketers on the circuit and has all the ingredients to take shape again. You can also determine on your own where the Qualifier ends between DC and KKR. In fact, it seems imperative that Ashwin does his best against KKR, especially if DC has the ambition to end their hoodoo IPL.
Remember, Ashwin has a number of left-handed hitters to prove himself, that too on a Sharjah surface that has helped slower bowling and hasn’t allowed hitters to flow as freely as they would like. It could still work, you know.
However, from the excitement and frenzy that ensued when Ashwin was inducted into the India T20 World Cup squad, it seems he’s back to square one. And, as has often been the case with Ashwin, now he has to answer his critics – again!
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