Rajkot: England captain Alastair Cook has heaped high praise on Ravichandran Ashwin, saying India's premier off-spinner has become a world-class bowler and compared his rapid rise to that of Graeme Swann.
"One of his obvious strengths at the moment is his confidence is sky high (that's natural) if you have taken the number of wickets that he has done over last year or so in Indian conditions. Cricket is a funny game and a lot of it is played in the mind. He obviously must be flying (high)," said Cook on the eve of the five-Test series opener here on Wednesday.
India's premier spin bowler grabbed 27 wickets in a fantastic return in three Tests against New Zealand to grab the man of the series award for the fourth time in his short career.
Cook, who is one batsman who has played the lanky Indian off spinner with a lot of confidence in the sub continent and at home, said it probably was because the Tamil Nadu bowler had grown as a bowler since 2012, in a case similar to his one-time teammate Graeme Swann who became a better bowler after being ignored for close to a decade since he made his debut.
"Probably he knows his game better than in 2012. Four years down the line of experience and craft (from 2012). You don't just become a world class spinner overnight, it takes time to do that. Graeme Swann was probably the prime example for an Englishman who made his debut early and was probably 8-9 years in the wilderness and he said it helped him develop his spin bowling and probably Ashwin is the same," said Cook.
Ashwin was outperformed by Swann in the 2012 four-match rubber in which England bounced back to defeat India 2-1.
Cook said while the England playing eleven was not finalized the tour management had decided to give a Test cap to young opening batsman Haseeb Hameed by sitting down Gary Balance and moving Ben Duckett to the number four spot.
"We don't have a team. I have not had a look at the wicket. It can change in six hours. I can say Haseeb Hameed will play and Ben (Duckett) will bat at four," said Cook thus helping the 19-year-old youngster from Lancashire all set to become the youngest opening batsman and the fifth-youngest Test debutant for England.
"He's incredibly unflappable, looks a very good player of spin, looks like he picks length very well, uses his crease going back or forward well. He's actually superb, you would not know he's 19. He has scored runs at every level he has played. I was nowhere near the player he was (at that age).
"Unfortunate decision on Gary (Balance), six Test matches and unfortunately not scored the runs and it has given someone else (Hameed) the opportunity. These are very exciting days for a young guy, who has impressed everyone on this trip. You wonder whether a 19 year old will be overawed but he has not been. He has been one of those natural scorers. He has developed quickly. He should be very proud," Cook said.
Looking ahead at the Test and the series overall, Cook felt it was a biggie and his side has lived beyond expectations of late.
"It's a big series against India. They have played some good cricket. This England side has always exceeded expectations and hope it does so over next six to seven weeks."
Asked about the collapse in the second innings against Bangladesh at Dhaka that helped the hosts score their first ever Test win over England, Cook side it was obviously an eye-opener to quite a few in the team on how things can change so quickly in the sub continent with fielders around the bat against the spinning ball.
"It's a challenge we have got in these conditions. Those ten wickets (that England lost) in a session was like a real eye-opener for those who have not played in the sub continent or India. Things could change very quickly. Dealing with that pressure with men hovering around the bat when you first go in as a batter, is tough.
"It's different for us from having three slips and two gullies and short leg and starting your innings against pace as compared to spin. That's what the challenge we had in Bangladesh and we have got it here."
Talking about the Decision Review System, to be used for the first time in a series hosted by India, Cook said the best thing was because of DRS the best side in the contest won as it takes away umpiring howlers.
"I think the best thing about DRS is you end up talking about the cricket and not about decisions that affect the game. If there's a bad decision that can be overturned, normally the best side wins, rather than umpiring error becoming the big story. There were some wrong (on-field umpiring) decisions in Bangladesh and DRS took them out and the best side won in both games."
He said spinners have benefited by DRS as the batsmen need to play with the bat rather than offer the pad as the first form of contact.
"The change the DRS has done is you have to play with the bat more than the pad, it has brought orthodox spinners back into the game you have to use the bat umpires are now brave to give people out. It's better cricket," he added.