Is he the all-rounder that Indian cricket has been yearning for? It is still early days, but R. Ashwin looks quite promising.
For skipper M.S. Dhoni, the absence of Ravindra Jadeja in the first Test against the West Indies was a matter of grave concern on the eve of the match. But Ashwin took on the mantle and delivered in style, scoring a century and getting five wickets for the match; no Indian cricketer has achieved that double twice. Kapil Dev has done it once.
Modern cricket demands that each player stand up to be counted, and this has led to a realisation that even the No.11 has to chip in with the bat. The focus is on making the bowlers perform a batsman’s job if the need arises adds to the strength of the team.
Ashwin’s has been a tale of grabbing the opportunities whenever they have come his way.
It was as a batsman that he made an early impression. He still has the mindset of a batsman but fancies himself as a frontline bowler — a spinner who explores traditional avenues to snare his victims.
True, he has added the carrom ball to his armoury, but Ashwin is an off-spinner who believes in setting up the batsman.
‘Can still improve’
His coach, Sunil Subramanian, is convinced that Ashwin has the ability to improve hugely. “I have told him that he’ll end up opening the batting for India,” says Sunil of his protégé.
Ashwin made news as a batsman of immense potential in age-group cricket in Chennai, scoring close to 25 centuries as an opener. “His early success was as a batsman, and he was ready by the time he came to be recognised for state selection,” Sunil recalls. “He always had ample time to play the ball.”
Ashwin’s relaxed demeanour when dealing with tough situations even at the junior level was always impressive.
In the Kolkata Test, he walked in at 156 for six. But, there was no trace of anxiety. He got into the act with alacrity, a few sweetly timed shots indicating his form, and soon things were back in control. Ashwin was holding his own alongside ohit Sharma, hardly looking like a No.8.
Ashwin does not allow the situation to get to him, a sign that India coach Duncan Fletcher is succeeding in implementing his ideas of getting the tail-enders to understand their role. Fletcher has worked tirelessly with the lower-order batsman, preparing them to add depth to the team’s batting.
It took an effort to convert Ashwin into a bowler in age-group cricket. The coaches saw a huge advantage in his height because it enabled him to extract bounce. But, then, he always had this gift of timing when batting.
“His bowling is a nice mix of turn and bounce. He is not a one-dimensional bowler. His trajectory is his forte, and I like the way he explored the angle from round the stumps. He may not look a natural athlete, but his cricketing skills are far superior to many,” avers Sunil.
Last season, he struggled with his approach, and his left leg position as he tinkered with his “loading” and tried too hard. Too much T20 had impacted his bowling.
He loves the off-stump line of attack, reads the game very well, and has begun to execute his skills.
The expectations are bound to grow. It is believed Ashwin can be the ‘floater’ in the XI, available to bat at any position. As for Sunil, he sets his Ashwin a new challenge.
“I want him to get runs outside India,” he says.