Cricket-India’s spin maestro Ashwin re-invents himself to stay relevant

Cricket – Fifth Test – India v England – Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium, Dharamshala, India – March 9, 2024 India’s Ravichandran Ashwin acknowledges the fans and celebrates his five-wicket-haul with teammates after taking the wicket of England’s Ben Foakes REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s chess great Viswanathan Anand took to social media last week congratulating Ravichandran Ashwin on the cricketer’s 100th test and asking if the spinner fancied a game of chess with him.

The former five-time world chess champion seeking a battle of wits could hardly have picked a more cerebral opponent from the 15 members of the India squad that clinched a 4-1 series victory against England on Saturday.

Ashwin, who finished the series as its leading wicket-taker, is known as a fussy perfectionist, who hates to be predictable and frequently tweaks his action, varies his speed and alters the release point to keep batters guessing.

The off-spinner, who at one point tried leg spin in domestic cricket to expand his repertoire, said a contemporary bowler must constantly re-invent himself to be relevant in the era of video analyses.

“The batters are constantly prepared and they can line you up beautifully if you are the same person that keeps coming (at the batters),” Ashwin said after India’s innings victory in Dharamsala on Saturday.

“Sticking to one method won’t be good enough to dismiss batters. I’m not saying it won’t work, but thankfully, I’m one of those who has experimented, learnt, and it has worked for me.

“I can’t say this is the method somebody else should stick to but with all the video footage and analysis going on, it’s better if you stay on top of it.”

It was an eventful series for Ashwin, who claimed his 500th test wicket in the third match in Rajkot and abruptly left the match to be with his ailing mother in Chennai.

Admonished by her for abandoning his team in the middle of a match, Ashwin soon returned to haunt the English batters and claimed his 36th five-wicket haul, the most by an Indian, in his 100th test in the series finale in Dharamsala.

England batting mainstay Joe Root explained what made Ashwin, who combines a spinner’s guile with a fast bowler’s aggression, such a difficult bowler to play.

“He bowls over-spin, side-spin, can get really tight into the stumps, can use the crease (and) get wider, has got carrom balls and lots of different tricks,” Root said on a Sky Cricket video podcast on the eve of the final test.

Ashwin’s stellar performance did not surprise head coach Rahul Dravid, who also lauded the spinner’s commitment.

“Ash coming back after what he’d gone through … for me, it really signified what this team is about and what the character of this team is.

“That was for me probably the standout moment of the series and really gladdens your heart as a coach.”



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