CHENNAI: “They say he can turn things around.” This is inscribed in bold with Ravichandran Ashwin’s cover picture on Twitter. Next to the photoshopped wordings is Ashwin in a brown, linen jacket over grey tee, his face cropped above the lips, backdropped by blue skies and thick foams of white cloud in what seems like a desert mountain. Beneath the snap is his mug shot, the Tricolour painted on his cheeks.
Behavioural psychologists, forever inferring personalities of tweeters through their social-media dalliances, would find shades of “extroversion”, one of the “big-five” traits in their book. Or they might find him to be a bit of an attention-monger. In reality he is not. On tours, he prefers long, solitary walks and buries himself in thickly-bound thrillers. At other times he studiously dissects his spells with the video analyst. He is not an introvert so to say, he is articulate and sociable, but not an obsessive party-hopper or a maniacal show-pony.
He fits the archetype of a South Indian spinner in the vein of S Venkataraghavan — mean, methodical and meticulous than the flashier brand of freakish genius espoused by B S Chandrasekhar. At times, Ashwin has desperately striven to break into the Chandra-mould, but with limited success. In this World Cup, though, he has reverted to the Venkataraghavan template and reaped rewards.
The Cup has been about self-realisation and clarity of thought than the vainglorious pursuit of achieving the magical. “He has stuck to his basics. He is focused on his off-breaks, and has sparingly used his variations. He is using them smartly. Also, he has been mixing up his pace very well and has been consistent with his length and is tossing up the ball more often. He seems to have figured out what works out for him,” pointed out former India spinner Maninder Singh.
The tendency to over-experiment has been curbed, but not eschewed. Interestingly, he has manufactured an away-going ball, delivered with a seam-up grip but without any decipherable change in action. “The key is to use such variations cleverly. It should be an exception than the norm, and in the World Cup he has been doing that,” he elaborated.
The 28-year-old played an influential role in each of India’s three wins in the World Cup. Against Pakistan, he came at a time when Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail were insidiously stroking them to a winnable position. But Ashwin’s opening burst of 3-2-5-1 inalterably changed the match dynamics. He was a touch expensive to begin with against South Africa, but returned to handcuff them in the middle overs to return with figures of three for 41.
While it’s too easy to understate his four for 25 against United Arab Emirates’ crease-tied, inexperienced batsmen, he demonstrated an uncanny efficiency, which won bouquets from the greatest exponent from the Venkataraghavan school — Anil Kumble. He finds shades of himself in Ashwin: “I can see that grit, I can see the determination, I can see he wants to just hang around and do it for the team, so I see a lot of me in Ashwin.”
Meanwhile, Ravindra Jadeja has plied his trade without much fuss, strutting what he knows best, keeping a tight wicket-to-wicket line without affording batsmen length or air to free their arms. Returning from a lengthy injury, he was jumpy in the tri-series, but since the South Africa match, he has shown signs of regaining control and accuracy, his bowling dogma.
Together, their figures read 51.2-4-223-12, the economy rate 4.3, average 24, and striking once in every 33 balls. So where are the doomsayers, now? They might be singing, “he can turn things around”.