CHANDIGARH: On Sunday, right after Kings XI Punjab had thwarted MS Dhoni and his Yellow Brigade from pulling off yet another floodlight robbery they are familiar with, skipper Ravichandran Ashwin made one particular observation that might have touched a nerve or few of many a Chennai Super Kings aficionado.
“Today (Sunday) I thought we should unleash (Chris) Gayle, and he had the right sort of an attack to go out there and express himself.”
Those words may very well be construed as thus: the Super Kings have a weak pace battery — which makes for a story in itself — and the southpaw will make them suffer if he does get his eye in.
He did. After the willow-wielding Kraken of Mohali was released at the IS Bindra Stadium for the first time in 2018, he made Dhoni’s speedsters pay. Gayle blitzed 34 off his 63 runs — a knock that ostensibly put the match out of Chennai’s reach in the end — from their offerings, taking only 17 balls for doing so.
A jibe the aforementioned quote might have been, but it was another addition to the many right calls Ashwin has made after being handed over the reins of Punjab.
Being one among the rare brethren of skippers — read a bowling captain, only the fifth in IPL history — Ashwin seems to be benefitting from the acumen that his primary skillset has instilled in him. That, not so coincidentally, was the rationale that Punjab mentor Virender Sehwag had put forth before appointing Ashwin as the man-in-charge.The Chennai clash served up another example of how the bowler in Ashwin is serving him well while executing his stratagems, ones which are laced with both innovation and aggression.
Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Ashwin sent down a bulk of their overs after the powerplay, a shift from their last match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, where only one over of the first-six was sent down by a pacer. That tactic reaped rich dividends for Punjab, with only 50 runs being conceded off their overs. Tight field placements peppered with intent was what catalysed that run-misery. Mujeeb was given a slip throughout. Both spinners operated with heavy reinforcements square off the wicket on both sides (perhaps as Mohali has considerably longer boundaries on these ends), and these settings were adhered to with minimal blemishes.
The runs dried up, sparking the dismissal of Sam Billings to a loose shot. That wicket, in itself, was a microcosm of Ashwin’s judgement. He instantly went for an lbw review, which turned out to be a correct one.That period of pressure was perhaps the biggest-but-most-subtle point of inflection of the match, as Dhoni’s onslaught — which generally are as calculative as they can get — was reactive in nature, courtesy a spiralling asking rate. The veteran stumper himself acknowleged that fact after the loss. “They bowled very well, and Mujeeb made a difference.”
All this is not to suggest that Ashwin has become Midas in only his third outing as a skipper in the shortest format. There have been some throws of the dice which have gone against him. One such instance was him bringing on Rahman during the death in their previous clash against Bangalore. The move failed as he conceded 19 in that over thanks an AB de Villiers special.
That apart, Punjab’s top-five is yet to sport a settled look (all three line-ups of theirs have been different), and Aaron Finch’s non-starts with the bat may exacerbate that issue further.But, two out of three wins is a statistic that exudes promise. Coupled with the reputation of innovation the off-spinner-cum-now-part-time-leg-spinner brings to the table, expect Ashwin and his brand of skippering to create more waves in the days to come.