Ashwin breathing down Bhajji’s neck

cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

There have been a handful of players who have been able to get their way with selections for the Indian cricket team despite lacklustre performances. Harbhajan Singh for one doesn't face any threat of losing his place in the side until our selectors overrule themselves and give Ravichandran Ashwin - a move which is more likely to pay-off given his aggressive mindset - an opportunity in the national team. The recent performance of both these bowlers, during the World Cup and Indian Premier League, is something that breeds a healthy debate between the two. The cracks are more visible than ever in Bhajji's limited stocks while Ashwin, with his exceptional abilities and confidence, provides exactly the change needed.



Both the off-spinners back themselves bowling in the powerplays or at the death, and they also have the guts to toss the ball up against the likes of Chris Gayle or Virender Sehwag. However when it comes to playing for the national team, one enjoys tremendous backing of his captain and selectors while the other has to 'just' wait. I am not saying Ashwin is better or Bhajji is on the wane - just that the fight will spur the latter to develop some new tools. He has been too ordinary for some time lately and seems to be riding on his reputation.



Harbhajan's form - with the ball - has been nothing to brag about these days. He only managed 14 wickets in 15 matches in IPL - which included a five-for against Chennai Super Kings. He went wicket-less on eight occasions and leaked 370 runs. On the other hand Chennai's most-successful bowler Ashwin returned empty-handed only three times - conceding 388 runs for his 20 wickets in 16 outings.



The young tweaker from Chennai has repeatedly played vital part in his teams' success in IPL. Ashiwn bagged the 'most economical bowler' award in the third edition of the T20 extravaganza with 13 wickets in 12 matches at an envious economy rate of 6.10. This year too, the 24-year-old off-spinner maintained his good run giving away only 6.15 runs per over. He also improved his average from 22.53 to 19.40 this time around. Though Harbhajan improved his economy rate from 7.04 to 6.98 this IPL, his average leaped from 22.17 to 26.42. For all his so-called steadiness, the Turbanator seems to be losing the tricks like Murali and spell-binding skills like Warnie to contain the batters.



Wayne Parnell rightly said, only thinking bowlers will survive Twenty20 cricket. The Malingas and Mishras proved it's not just a batsmen's game. Gone are the days when pace bowlers used to start the proceedings and pass it on to the spinners only after 10-15 overs. Today Dhoni just tosses the ball to Ravichandran Ashwin and he obliges with early wickets. The lanky off-spinner opened the bowling on four occasions for CSK in IPL-4 dismissing the likes of Chris Gayle (in final) and AB de Villiers in the first over. Bhajji too opened the bowling for Mumbai Indians five times scalping Adam Gilchrist, Jesse Ryder and David Warner straightaway to mark the great transformation in world cricket.



However, he also enjoyed the advantage of having someone like Lasith Malinga on his side who kept one end ridiculously tight.



Batsmen's concentration spans are generally shorter in the T20 format which brings me to my next point - value for wicket. While Ashwin's primary victims included the openers, Harbhajan preyed mainly on middle-order and lower-order batsmen in IPL-4.



The opening batsmen who fell to Ashwin were: Jacques Kallis, Mayank Agarwal (twice), Brendon McCullum, Mahela Jayawardena, Jesse Ryder, Eoin Morgan, Shane Watson, Parthiv Patel, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle (twice).



His other wickets included Robin Uthappa (twice), Ashok Menaria (twice), Gautam Gambhir, Colin Ingram, Venugopal Rao and Daniel Vettori.



Harbhajan's opening strikes: Adam Gilchrist, Jesse Ryder, David Warner and Gautam Gambhir.



Other scalps: Aaron Finch, Suresh Raina, Aniruda Srikkanth, Albie Morkel, Ravichandran Ashwin, Joginder Sharma, Abhishek Nayar, JP Duminy, Umesh Yadav and Yogesh Nagar.



You can do your own math here as to who can afford to put their feet up for a while. They both have the ability to contain the batsmen and earn a decent living but Ashwin has been on the wrong side for a while now. Logic fails when we see Piyush Chawla playing more matches than Ashwin at cricket's grandest stage - World Cup.



Almost every team relies heavily on their spinners and the sub-continent tweakers are famous for their dominance in the area - we didn't have many Shane Warnes out there, did we? The variety and bags of tricks with which these spinners operate puts them above grade cricketers. Ashwin in recent times has emerged somewhat more intimidating than Bhajji who seems to be at the other end of the gamut. India's lead spin bowler too is aware of the growing competition from the rising star - perhaps that's the reason he opted to tour West Indies when many senior players decided to take some well-deserved rest and give an opportunity to other promising talents.