Ravichandran Ashwin

R. Ashwin

Nathan Michael Lyon

Nathan Lyon

In the recent test at MCG Shane Warne TV Commentator on the TV channel while talking to Harsha Bhogle mentioned that there are only Two Spinners making a great impact in Tests now.  He was referring to Ravichandran Ashwin, the India’s offie and Nathan Lyon, the Aussies offie.  That triggered my thoughts into taking a sneak view of their contest in the ongoing Test series in Down Under.

Analysing the contest, Sachin Tendulkar praised Ashwin’s control, variety and planning for Smith in the Down Under tour 0f Australia 2020-21. “In the first Test, Smith got out to an arm ball or you can call it a straighter one which Ashwin releases differently,” Tendulkar told PTI. “An offspinner bowls a straighter one which skids off the surface when the fingers are not on top of the ball.

“In the second Test, it was not a slider but [Ashwin’s] fingers were on top of the ball, which produced bounce and turn. Steve Smith played a normal flick to a regulation off-break that any batsman does by instinct, and the fielder was brilliantly placed there. It was a well-planned ball and wicket by Ashwin. Both are class players, so someone is going to have a better day and so far, Ashwin has come out the winner in the first two Tests.”

What makes Ashwin’s effort more special is the fact that he is able to drift in the ball from close to the stumps, something that Powar believes is very difficult to do.

“The fact that Ashwin is able to drift the ball in with a release point that is close to the stump is very unique,” said Powar, who has coached the senior Indian national women’s team.

“It is easy to bowl that middle-leg line from the centre or wide of the crease, but Ashwin is able to do this from close to the crease because he is using a lot of wrist. The mindset of the batsman is that if a bowler is bowling from close to the stumps, the line will be on or outside the off-stump. A fast bowler never bowls an in-swinging ball from close to the stumps. A batsman’s traditional way of thinking is that if a bowler is bowling close to stumps, then I can play the cover drive, but Ashwin is making the same ball drift in and spin and thus they are clueless. 

The above adulations on Ashwin’s bowling are testimony to his bowling prowess in the current situation. 

Understandably, there were comparisons to his off-spinning counterpart Nathan Lyon, who’d used overspin to great effect on the opening day. Ashwin, on the other hand, played with drift, dip and subtle changes of pace. “At times things can get blown out of context on how one approaches their trade,” Ashwin opined. “Even in this particular Test, Nathan and I bowl very differently. We are different bowlers and successful in our own way. For me it’s not so much about the trajectory. It’s about trying and changing it up and trying to make it difficult for the batsman to be able to defend or score.

“When you are playing abroad, my mindset is to just hold one end up and allow the captain to rotate fast bowlers from the other end. I also go for wickets if there is enough assistance or enough early wickets. For me it’s all about making it as difficult as possible. Ashwin, however, pointed out asking players to replicate one another in specific conditions was unfair. 

In both the Tests of India’s ongoing tour of Australia, he has outbowled Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon, something no other spinner has been able to do in the recent past. He has claimed the wicket of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne twice and has dismissed seven of the top eight Australian batsmen at least once in the series.

He has got turn, bounce, drift, flight, dip and more importantly, success. There is no attempt to try too many things, and as former India off-spinner Ramesh Powar puts it, there is just classical off-spin bowling.

All this has meant that Ashwin has put the ghosts of his last three trips Down Under on the back-burner. During the 2014-’15 trip, missing out on the first Test changed his career, he has said in the past. In 2018-’19, he bowled brilliantly in the first Test but missed rest three due to an injury.

This series (2020-21) is proving to be his stairway to the land of legends. Fitness permitting, the first two Tests have shown (  got 10 wickets), he is on his way.

Nathan Lyon, the Aussie off spinner, who’s played 98 Tests and who’s just 6 wickets shy of 400 wickets club at the end of the MCG Test also bowled reasonably well so far. His career graph shows that he always plays a second fiddle to their pace trios at any point of time.

 On the eve of MCG Test Lyon said, “India will probably look to try to attack me again, especially when you look at the quality of the quick bowlers we’ve got here in the Australian side. So I think it’s one of their tactics to come at me, which is totally fine, I’m pretty used to having guys come after me but it’s just about, for me, being able to know when to attack and when to defend as well and realise who I’m bowling with at the other end and having that partnership. So it’s all fun and part of playing cricket, especially being a little spin bowler, you’re going to have a lot of guys come out and try to attack you.”

Lyon explained that he had worked on the pace of his deliveries over several years, quickening up by a few kilometres in part to make it more difficult for batsmen to run down the pitch to him in the fashion Pujara has favoured.

“I think I’ve been trying to work on that for many years now with John Davison, who is the guy I go to a lot about my spin bowling,” Lyon said. “I think it really depends on who you’re bowling to and the conditions, so I think over the last four or five years my pace has probably gone up a couple of kilometres.

“But I think it’s more about the shape you’re able to generate on the ball, if I’m being honest. I think that’s the most crucial thing – you can bowl at any pace but if you can have that shape on the ball that’s going to be the most dangerous thing. It’s something I’ve been working on for a few years now and hopefully keep getting better with it.”

Though Lyon bowled 27 overs in India’s first innings at MCG and claimed 3 wickets for 72 runs, it was not incisive.

But the battle is not yet over for these two intelligent bowlers as two tests are on the cards in the series and we have to keep our fingers crossed for the supremacy of these two. 

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