Ravichandran Ashwin - An experimenter at heart

As fate would have it, Ashwin is staring down at a left hander and if that wasn’t promising enough, he's staring down at a No.11 known to take his chances, as he searches for his 5th.

The Chennai crowd is witnessing a test match after 4 years. They are patiently waiting to see India bowl. Not without a reason, they want to see their favorite boy bowl. They want to see Ravichandran Ashwin spin a web around the batsmen like he so often does. Between the time when he last bowled in a test at Chennai and now, Ashwin’s career has come a full circle. From being labelled a ‘home specialist’ to being injured when he was bowling really well overseas, Ashwin has seen it all. He has seen so much that he has even tried his hand at leg spin.

But for this crowd and Ashwin, all that are in the distant past. Ashwin is coming off heroics with the bat in Australia and his 28th 5 wicket haul at an empty Chepauk in the 1st test of the series. Now, it is time to pay their respects to their own off-spinner, come the 2nd test match. Chepauk produces a turner and India put up a more than decent 329 batting first. Ashwin takes the new ball to no one’s surprise. The crowd goes, ‘Ashwin, Ashwin’. They have been wanting to all this while.

Ashwin starts off with a short leg and leg slip which has now become his trademark way of operating. Classical off spinners are supposed to bowl outside off-stump, get that drift and open up a bat-pad gap, but Ashwin is an experimenter. He has a modus operandi and sticks to it, and he calls it ‘middle and leg’. Ashwin has made his career bowling that so called negative line. Today was no different.

Ashwin delivers yet another lesson in mixing up the pace just before lunch to account for Daniel Lawrence. This graph from BCCI.tv pretty much summarizes how Ashwin’s speed oscillates all the way from Axar’s quick ones to Kuldeep’s slower ones. He goes from being consistently around 85 kph to pulling it back to 80 kph on the last ball before lunch. As if that wasn’t enough, Ashwin slows down the pace of the game and keeps Lawrence waiting with a couple of dummy run-ups. He gets Lawrence to commit on his front foot long before the ball arrives and the dip and bounce, ensure a bat-pad dismissal. Ashwin has his second victim. He is one closer to the 5 wicket haul that crowd has come in for.

His set up of Ben Stokes post lunch had the change in pace, but it had something else of Ashwin’s weapon too. The change of lengths. An uncharacteristic 90 kph ball short of a length ball followed by a loopy 82 kph ball on the leg stump that dipped and turned away to knock the wickets. Ashwin for once tries to satisfy the purists and their conventional way of thinking about off-spin. This trajectory map from BCCI.tv shows the difference in lengths and how the wicket ball (blue) was much fuller. Ashwin is one closer to the 5 wicket haul that the crowd is still waiting for.

To take him one step closer, he finds an ally in Olly Stone. He brings out another element this time to make sure he doesn’t bore the Chepauk fans. The drift to set it up. Ashwin finds generous drift from over the wicket and he also finds a magnanimous response from the pitch too, just like the crowds, forcing Rishabh Pant to take evasive action. Enough seeds of doubt had been sown in Olly Stone’s mind. The off-spinner follows it up with a good length ball with little dip for Stone to find Rohit at mid-wicket. One to go for the 29th five-fer and the crowd is buzzing in anticipation.

As fate would have it, Ashwin is staring down at a left hander and if that wasn’t promising enough, he is staring down to a No.11 known to take his chances. Broad sweeps and misses, to hand Ashwin his 5th.

Chepauk witnessed what it paid for. Ashwin waves that red cherry with a beaming smile to the Chennai crowd. Ashwin strengthens his case for renaming the stands, the ends or even the ground after him as some fans suggest.