The 35-year-old off-spinner’s T20 appearances in the last four years have been limited to the Indian Premier League and for his home state, Tamil Nadu. In that period, Ashwin went from the ace in the pack to one of many cards in the deck.
In normal course, most players would have set aside their white-ball aspirations and continued to soldier on in red ball cricket. But that is what sets Ashwin apart: giving up is not an option.
The unfortunate finger injury sustained by Washington Sundar during the tour of England earlier in the summer turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it paved the way for Ashwin’s return to T20 colours. Clearly, the team management wasn’t looking beyond Washington before his forced unavailability for selection. Ashwin’s re-entry points to the fact that India’s off-spin options are so limited that they had to turn to an old warhorse to add impetus to the bowling attack, however storied the latter’s career might be.
While the debate on India’s spin resources and Ashwin’s return continues, the man himself may not be affected by all the hullabaloo.
His abilities apart, what separates Ashwin from the others is his desperation to reinvent himself. An astute reader and pupil of the sport, Ashwin will be one of Virat Kohli‘s prime calling cards when India begin their campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan in Dubai on Sunday night.
A strong believer in hard work and supremely confident of his skills, the experienced Ashwin brings variety to the bowling line-up. Particularly in this format, he employs the carrom ball, which he has mastered, most judiciously and with devastating effect. Also, the fact that he can be used effectively in different phases of the match, including in the powerplay, lends Kohli an additional dimension to utilise.
Since his T20I debut against Zimbabwe in Harare in 2010, Ashwin has played 46 times, claiming 52 wickets at an economy rate of 6.97. While he thrived under Mahendra Singh Dhoni‘s leadership, he has played just one match in this format under Kohli. During this World Cup, Ashwin will be reunited with Dhoni, the team’s mentor for the competition.
Early indications are that spin will hold sway in the showpiece event in the UAE. Ashwin will therefore feel the need to prove an additional point or two to himself – he is often his worst critic — especially with the relevance of finger-spin being questioned at the altar of canny wrist spin.
Ashwin didn’t have the most productive IPL – 13 matches brought him only seven wickets at an economy of 7.41 and with best figures of 2 for 27. A lesser man might feel the pressure, but it’s precisely that commodity that Ashwin thrives on. Against this backdrop, it will be interesting to see what tricks he has up his sleeve, and how and when he unleashes them on unsuspecting opponents.