Ashwin stakes claim with restrained but menacing spell against Leicester – SportsMediaz

Three days after he landed in Leicestershire, his arrival delayed due to COVID-19 infection and subsequent isolation at home, he produced a spell that allayed fears on both his fitness and readiness. In an unchanged 11-over-spell, where he was restrained yet menacing, he looked the most potent of India’s bowlers on a sun-baked placid surface, where most batters found run-scoring a less challenging exercise than it was on the first three days.

The swing on the surface had dissipated, but it had yet deteriorated to encourage spin. In the morning, the seamers, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami bowled with venom and vim, pounding the deck hard, but a breakthrough eluded. So strolled in Ashwin to bowl the 20th over of the final day. From the outset, his intentions were obvious, he was not looking to marvel batsmen with outrageous turn or twinkling variations. In fact, he hardly unpacked his full bag of variations. He wanted to work his rhythm into the game, stifle the batsmen, get a measure of the conditions and then spread his wings.

The lengths thus were fuller, trajectory a fraction flatter and line on off-and-middle stump. He seemed in no mood for a battle of wits with batsmen. Sam Evans, the Leicestershire batsman who averages a shade under 30, bestowed him with respect, studiously blocking every ball. But his partner Shubman Gill, conversely, decided to draw Ashwin into a challenge. So in the next over, he dragged Ashwin from a country mile outside the off stump—a rare instance he bowled wide in the early part of the spell—and swept him powerfully through square-leg.

On cue, Ashwin corrected his line and went around the stumps to angle the ball across him. But Gill would still not spare him. He stepped out and powered him through mid-wicket, picking the ball, slower through the air but harmlessly, from the off-stump.

The stroke roused Ashwin. The contest intensified. He reverted to bowl from over the stumps, alternating between a good-length on off-stump and middle-stump, mixing up his pace. He couldn’t harness a dangerous degree of drift, the wind blowing into him worked against him as well, but now he was making the ball drop. So many variegated skills has he that he could summon whatever he wants whenever he wants. He gradually pulled the length back, bringing Gill, who prefers the back-foot perch, forward. Gill probably read too much into Ashwin’s ploys. Ashwin, sometimes, tends to over-complicate himself, but these days, batsmen over-complicate themselves when tussling him.

Anyway, Gill was brought out of his comforts. He chalked out an escape route—to sweep himself out of misery and reclaim the early ascendancy. This is what Ashwin does at his best—to sow self-doubts in batsmen’s mind. Until then, Gill was batting with an air of authority. Now, though, he felt both insecure and inadequate. He unfurled the sweep. But Ashwin, ever a psychoanalyst of batsmen, floated one on the leg-stump. Gill failed to control the shot and holed out in the deep.

Thereafter, he began to work over Evans. As tempting as it might have been to bamboozle him with a deceptive variation of his, he was in no mood for quick kill. Rather, he induced a suicide. Evans was keen to use his feet, but Ashwin’s pace and trajectory kept him crease-tied. He knew it was only a matter of time before the restless Evans would step out. The batsmen’s feet telegraphed his plan and Ashwin bowled a shortish ball outside the leg-stump. Evans was beaten and stumped. One more over, and Ashwin walked back gingerly into the pavilion, wearing a content smile.

Shortly, Ravindra Jadeja replaced him. Louis Kimber welcomed him with a four before Hanuma Vihari, hitherto in wretched form, walloped him for a six and four off successive balls. Jadeja bounced back, suffocated the batsmen with tight lengths and grabbed a brace of wickets to the three he had snaffled in the first innings. That would lay another layer to the Jadeja-Ashwin debate for the Edgbaston Test.

A stray warm-up game, though, would not have the final word on the debate. The decision would hinge on several factors—the extent of Ashwin’s recovery, the nature of the the surface (Edgbaston has a spin-friendly reputation), the combination that India would seek, the right/left handedness of the England squad, and how they bowl in the nets in the days preceding to the Test that begins on July 1. But Ashwin, to his credit, has emphasised that he is in fine fettle, having been benched for the first four Tests of this series last year.

Overall, the visitors would leave East Midland satisfied with their bowlers’ rhythm, but dissatisfied with most of their batsmen’s touch.

Only Shubman Gill, Virat Kohli, Rishabh Pant and KS Bharat were fluent. Both Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari spent considerable time in the middle, without exuding any assurance. Cheteshwar Pujara was scratchy rather than steady in the second innings, after the first-innings duck. The brightest spark of the sleepy day, though, was Ashwin.

Brief scores: Indians 246 for 8 dec (Bharat 70, Walker 5-24) and 364 for 9 (Kohli 67, Jadeja 56*) drew Leicestershire 244 (Pant 76, Jadeja 3-28, Shami 3-42) and 219 for 4 (Gill 62, Kimber 56, Ashwin 2-31).

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