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By Partab Ramchand
Ravichandran Ashwin’s performance in the Delhi Test against the West Indies would not have come as a surprise to those who have been following his career closely. Perhaps he even exceeded expectations with a match haul of nine wickets, the second highest for an Indian bowler on debut besides taking the man of the match award. But success was bound to come his way keeping in mind his bowling skills, his ideal temperament and his competitiveness. He is a bowler who loves challenges and in racing parlance is clearly a stayer and not a sprinter. One just can’t see him as a meteor like some other Indian spin bowlers who made an immediate impact and then faded away.
Ashwin replaced Harbhajan Singh in the ODI squad and now looks good enough to take his place in the Test squad too. Not only has he virtually booked his ticket to Australia he has given every indication that he is here to stay the distance. It would be easy to say that he got some help from the Kotla surface but Ashwin is a bowler who will also excel in less amiable conditions.
What can you say about a spinner who relishes bowling in powerplays and is not overawed by either reputed batsmen or a pressure cooker situation? Simply put Ashwin is a cerebral bowler whose rise has been steady rather than spectacular. But now that he has achieved the tag of the frontline Indian spin bowler one cannot see him lose it overnight for Ashwin is an ambitious cricketer who is clearly focused on his immediate objective – to be the No 1 spin bowler in the land.
The unassuming Ashwin has admitted that Harbhajan has been one of his childhood heroes and looks forward to the day when the two will be bowling in tandem. In a recent interview he spoke of the pre-conceived notion that two off spinners can’t figure in the playing eleven even as he pointed out that he and Harbhajan were two different types of bowlers. Ashwin has a valid case for in the past we have had Venkatraghavan and Prasanna bowling in tandem for many Tests in the 60s and 70s.
Ashwin has a number of different deliveries to befuddle batsmen. He has the conventional off break of course but with no perceptible change of action he can send down the straight one, the delivery that goes the other way and the carom ball which he has mastered following a close study of Ajantha Mendis. Initially he found it difficult to bowl the delivery but in keeping with his never-say-die spirit he persevered and now the carom ball is a major weapon his armoury. The ball with which he bemused and bowled Marlon Samuels in the second innings at Delhi was a peach.
Ashwin made his presence felt in his debut season in 2006-07 when he was the leading wicket taker for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy with 31 scalps at under 20 apiece. But it was in the IPL while playing for Chennai Super Kings that Ashwin really attracted considerable attention with his miserly spells. Even as batsmen made hay Ashwin was the one bowler who kept them on a leash with his mixed bag of tricks and in 2009 conceded just 6.10 runs an over while picking up 13 wickets. The following year his man of the series performance helped CSK lift the trophy. By now his growing confidence and widening repertoire of tricks got him the India cap and within a week in June last year he made his ODI and Twenty20 international debut. He was a success both in picking up wickets and keeping a check on the batsmen’s run scoring capabilities and it did not come as a surprise when he was included in the World Cup squad this year.
With Harbhajan going through a lean period there was a clamour for Ashwin’s inclusion in the playing eleven and when he finally got in he was an instant success bagging two wickets each against West Indies and in the quarterfinal against Australia even relishing the unusual role of opening the bowling. But then that was very much in keeping with Ashwin’s happy knack of rising to the occasion when given additional responsibilities.
While his chief role is that of a bowler Ashwin can contribute handily with the bat as two first class centuries will illustrate. But then his batting heroics are not confined to first class cricket. He displayed his batting skills on his ODI debut when he scored 38 at No 8 against Sri Lanka in Harare and only a couple of months back he partnered Ravindra Jadeja in a seventh wicket partnership of 59 runs in just five overs against England at the Oval his share being a rollicking 36 not out off 19 balls. There is already some talk of him being developed as the next utility man in the Indian team but Ashwin one is sure would rather concentrate on honing his bowling variations.