On autopilot: Ashwin showing he's a cut above the rest
The off-spinner feels his excellent form coming into IPL 2023 has helped bowl far more freely and be Rajasthan Royals’ prime spinner.
A familiar sight in Rajasthan Royal’s games this season has been skipper Sanju Samson tossing the ball to R Ashwin in crunch moments. Yuzvendra Chahal may be only a wicket behind his senior spin partner in the overall tally, but it is repeatedly seen that Ashwin is the one RR look to when the going gets tough.
After 43 matches in IPL 2023, Ashwin has the best economy-rate among the 10 highest wicket-takers. The off-spinner, fifth with 13 wickets, has bowled his full quota of overs in every match he’s played and has a decent economy rate of 7.22.
Ashwin had come into this season in impressive form. In the four-Test series against Australia in February-March, he took 25 wickets with two five-fors in an innings.
Rajasthan, meanwhile, were being counted among the favourites after finishing runners-up last year. They had assembled a formidable squad with a potent spin attack. In Ashwin and Chahal, they already had two of India’s finest spinners in their ranks. With Australia leggie Adam Zampa added to the mix, RR would’ve felt confident they had solutions for most situations.
With five wins in nine games, RR have lived up to expectations and look like strong contenders for another playoff berth. They have a number of accomplished players in their squad. While Jos Buttler and Yashasvi Jaiswal have led the way with the bat, it is Ashwin who has been their standout bowler.
“Ashwin has concentrated very much on bowling his stock ball,” Kumar Sangakkara, RR head coach and director of cricket, had said earlier in the tournament. “He trusts his variations but more his stock ball. He just had a great series in Test cricket, so he’s bowled a lot of overs and the ball is coming out really well. He’s getting his under-cutter going and has got his carrom ball as well. So, he’s been amazing for us.”
There’s been a sense of certainty in how Ashwin, 36, has operated. In the past few years, he had raised questions by perhaps trying too many variations. This year, he’s backed his strengths and used his wide range of tricks masterfully, providing key breakthroughs consistently.
He’s bowled in every phase of an innings – powerplay, middles overs and the death – and has gone wicketless in just one game (vs Gujarat Titans). Among his victims are dangerous batters like Glenn Maxwell, Cameron Green, Ishan Kishan, Ajinkya Rahane (twice), Shivam Dube and Kyle Mayers. None of the wickets he’s taken has been of a tailender.
“The ball is coming out from my hand really well. I’m able to get it to drop, put enough revs, use both my variations. My length and arm ball are really good at the moment,” Ashwin said after his Player-of-the-Match performance (30 off 22 balls & 2/25) in RR’s win over CSK at Chepauk, his home ground.
“For someone like me who bowls in different phases of the game, I have to be prepared to bowl different lengths, speeds and trajectories. I was asked if I’m keeping it a lot simpler. I feel you can keep it simple only when you attain a certain amount of mastery over the thing. I have to gauge where I am and what I am. Having played cricket for so long, I probably gauge things and deliver what I think is the best for that situation.
"At the moment, I’m just enjoying my bowling. I’m looking to deceive batters a lot more in the flight, and that’s because of where I find myself with the ball right now. Usually, I work really hard during IPL; this time I’ve just taken a back seat and my bowling is looking after itself.”
Ashwin has played 113 ODIs, the last in January 2022. But this is an ODI World Cup year and the senior pro is quietly making his case for a comeback. A major portion of IPL 2023 is yet to be played, but so far there’s little doubt that Ashwin has looked a cut above the other Indian spinners in the league.