Ravichandran Ashwin can’t be faulted for feeling an undue burden of expectation on his shoulders as India embark on their mission to ambush England, for he is the latest prototype of the great Indian stereotype — slow-bowling charmers with beguiling smiles but with deceptively magical fingers and wrists.
It’s a legacy he is worthy of, as he had been India’s tour de force in both the home series he has featured in — against New Zealand and the West Indies. And whether he would unleash the mystery ball (a doosra flicked with a bent of the middle finger and thumb) or not in this series, he is expected to play a vital role if India are to emerge triumphant, and observers reckons he can reap Saeed Ajmal-like haul against England in UAE.
Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni plays down such unwarranted comparisons though maintained the worth of Ashwin to the side. “I think comparing two players is unfair and they are slightly different bowlers. Ajmal has a wonderful doosra, which is his stock delivery. But Ashwin’s stock delivery is his off-spinner,” he pointed out.
Tall, perseverant and armed with a quiver full of variations, he has the pre-requisites to rattle England. “He is the aggressor of the two spinners while Ojha’s role is to keep it tight at one end. Ashwin has variations and loves to bowl them, but I have told him to use variations as variations only. The off-spinner should be his main weapon,” observed Dhoni.
Moreover, he has struck an affable camaraderie with left-arm spinner Ojha. “That is the best part of it. We have seen innings where Ojha got the breakthrough while Ashwin did a bit of the containing job and vice versa. Both of them are able to get wickets for us. If there is something for them they make sure they come into the game,” he said.
So where does Harbhajan Singh fit into the larger context. “If you see the top 4-5 spinners, Harbhajan definitely features there. The good thing is he was out of the side and is now part of this series which means he can share his experience with some of these youngsters. He can share things with Ashwin because Ashwin is slightly different to him. I feel he has got a big amount of contribution to make in the coming series,” said Dhoni.
With three efficient spinners at their disposal, the temptation to play all three is overwhelming. “If we get a wicket like Kanpur — where India beat South Africa in 2008 — we might go in with four spinners as well,” he smirked. At least for the first Test, Dhoni estimates the expertise of the Ojha-Ashwin axis would usher in the desired result.