R Ashwin was ecstatic after dismissing Steve Smith. The Indian off-spinner sprinted 25 meters towards the Bradman stand and leapt in joy. It was as if he had dreamt of this dismissal leading into the match. But it was the manner in which he set up the former Australia skipper that would have given him immense satisfaction.
The two balls Ashwin bowled to Steve Smith prior to his wicket had Smith lunging forward in defence. Smith is such a good player of spin bowling, rarely do you find him pushing hard at the ball. In slow motion, it looked like Smith was just waiting for the ball to arrive, but it came a lot later than he anticipated. The main reason was the dip. Ashwin had imparted so much over spin on the ball that Smith had misread the length. Both deliveries hit high on his bat and trickled on the leg-side.
After two errors in judgment, Smith would have felt that perhaps it was better to play Ashwin off the back foot. However, Ashwin had anticipated Smith going back. So the next ball was released with a flatter trajectory and with more pace. The seam was more upright than a conventional off-spinner and as it landed on the surface, it just held the line. Smith was deep in his crease and played for the off-break, the ball kissed the edge and flew straight to slip.
Ever since landing in Australia, Ashwin had been working on bowling more top-spinners. The over-spinners don’t spin as much, but kicks up and bounces on the hard Australian pitches. Even in the tour match at the Drummoyne Oval, some of the Australia A players had hinted at how Ashwin was imparting overspin on the ball.
This is Ashwin’s fourth tour to Australia and every time he has been compared to Nathan Lyon. On each occasion Ashwin has shut down the comparison stating they are different types of bowlers. But with each delivery Ashwin seemed to have found a way to impart more overspin on the ball.
In a video for BCCI in 2015, Ashwin had revealed to generate top-spin on the ball, he would cock his index finger and press it firmly on the seam. This grip would make it easier for him to impart spin on the back of the ball. At the release point, the back of his wrist would be facing mid-wicket rather than mid-on. This enabled him to get a feel that he was coming over the top rather than the side of the ball.
The new method enabled him to get more bounce and made the ball dip a lot more on the batsmen. Travis Head was also fooled by the flight as the ball hit high on his bat as he looped a catch back to Ashwin.
To the right handed batsman, Ashwin constantly bowled with a 6-3 onside field. There was always a leg-slip in place along with a catching mid-wicket. On most occasions, he one had one man patrolling the leg-side boundary and he urged the batsman to sweep him. All these fields were set knowing that he was getting that loop, dip and the extra bounce.
Debutant Cameron Green was set up in a similar fashion to Smith. Earlier in the over, Green had also lunged at a couple, one flew past short-leg and the next ball hit high on his blade. Two false strokes on the front foot and Ashwin could sense Green would look to play him off the back-foot. Next ball, Ashwin pushed the ball a lot quicker. Green was fooled by the trajectory and pulled the full-ish ball straight to Kohli at mid-wicket.
Ashwin’s fourth dismissal was another example of his ability to extract extra bounce. Lyon played back to a ball that kicked up and held its line ever so slightly to get the leading edge and looped to cover.
At the end of the day Ashwin finished with figures of 18-3-55-4. Not only did he take wickets, but he locked down one end which enabled the Indian quicks to skittle the Australian batting. No doubt, it will be a day that Ashwin will look back on with fond memories. There is still plenty of cricket to be played in this match and the series, but early signs are Ashwin has found the right way to bowl in Australia.
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