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Two wickets for Ashwin, and what they say about his skill

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Sometimes, one ball can show a bowler how to improve in more than one way. For example, on the third and final day of the West Indies vs. India Test in Dominica, R. Ashwin got rid of Kraigg Brathwaite.

Let’s start with the view. Ashwin goes around the wicket and bowls with a lower arm than he usually does. This is because Ashwin’s release points change all the time, and also because he has noticed a technical problem when he goes a little round-arm to Brathwaite.

Ashwin told Brathwaite what he was thinking when he threw that ball during a conversation with Ian Bishop and Samuel Badree. This was after Ashwin bowled India to an innings win with match numbers of 12 for 131, which were his best away from home.

Ashwin said, “When I bowl, I’m always thinking like a batter.” “I’m getting into a nice flow during the first few overs. I’m trying to find different angles to see if my round-arm ball spins, if it spins up and over, or if it spins on a flat course. I try to figure out what the pitch is like and how fast I should bowl, and then I look at the hitter.

“That’s the next step for me: where is his head going, where is he looking to score those runs, is he falling over, is his front leg coming over? Those are the things I’m interested in. Today, when I was bowling at Kraigg Brathwaite, I felt like he was losing his mind when I used the round-arm action. This is something I worked on in the first test, too.

Ashwin didn’t mean that Brathwaite was making crazy shots when he said this. He just meant that his head was falling off.

When you freeze the replay of Brathwaite’s dismissal at the point where the ball pitches, you can see that his head has dropped a long way to the off side of the ball, which has pitched on a middle stumpish line. It puts Brathwaite in a dangerous situation because he can’t reach the ball with his bat because it can’t come down straight. It will have to slice across his front pad instead. Depending on how much the ball turns, there are three ways to get rid of it: lbw, caught off the inside edge, or caught off the outside edge.

This time, there isn’t much turn, and Brathwaite’s bat makes a path that looks a bit like a mirror-image C. It goes across the line at first, then curves out toward the ball. This gives Ajinkya Rahane a good edge to catch at slip.

There are also random differences at play here, but how much of it is completely natural? Think back to India’s innings and the part where their hitters had trouble hitting the ball. This was the first session of day two. Both Rohit Sharma and Yashasvi Jaiswal were bowled by Rahkeem Cornwall, who made the ball turn and bounce in strange ways. Even though both batters looked uncomfortable during that spell, Cornwall only made them think about one edge: the inside edge for the right-hander and the outside edge for the left-hander.

Neither Ashwin nor Ravindra Jadeja do this very often. What makes them dangerous is that they try both edges a lot, even on square pitches. They use natural diversity more than most spinners because they know how to make the most of it.

One hint about how they might be doing this came from the spin-vision replay of Brathwaite’s firing. During India’s home series against Australia in February and March, it was clear that Ashwin and Jadeja were getting the ball to move around in the air a lot, no matter what seam spot they used. Ashwin’s ball to Brathwaite also came out with a wobbly seam. Depending on which part of the ball fell on the pitch, it could have done many different things.

In the past few years, the media and former players have looked closely at the wobble-seam ball and how it affects the game, but only when fast bowlers have used it. It might be time to talk about the spinner’s version as well.

“When I bowl, I’m always thinking like a batter. I try to figure out what the pitch is like and how fast I should bowl, and then I look at the hitter.

R Ashwin gives an inside look at how he bowls.
Ashwin didn’t talk about how he throws the ball during his post-match chat. Instead, he talked a lot about how natural variation affects the thoughts of batters.

For this, he used Jermaine Blackwood as an example. Blackwood was the second person he hit during his seven-for in the second inning. Ashwin got Blackwood out with another ball from around the wicket. This one turned sharply in after pitching just outside off stump, and ball tracking showed that it would have gone on to hit the top of leg stump. Blackwood’s answer showed that he was playing for much less turn: his front pad went a long way across, and his bat came down to stop the ball from going down the pitch and into the cover region instead. He finally couldn’t swing his bat because his front leg was in the way.

“I’ve played a lot of Tests, right? Ashwin said, “It’s always about getting those first one or two outs as soon as possible.” “One caught the outside edge, and the other caught the inside edge. When the team walked in, they thought, ‘Okay, here I am; can I protect, can I go forward, should I go back?’

“As soon as a hitter walks in, you know what he wants to do. Jermaine Blackwood was a good example of how, after Kraigg Brathwaite nicked it off to slip, he was worried about the outside edge and wanted to protect it. It’s mostly about figuring out quickly when a batsman walks in whether he wants to drive or sit back. If you can figure out early on what a batter wants to do, you have a better chance of hitting him early on.

Dominica was just like any other changing pitch Test match for Ashwin, but don’t be fooled by how easy he makes it look. His skill has layers that most other spinners don’t have. These layers are the result of years of practice and experimentation.

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