Leading off-spinner R Ashwin’s inability to slice open the England batting line-up and extract advantage from the Motera pitch in the second innings of the first Test has come in for sharp criticism from some of the best-known spinners India has produced.
Ashwin conceded 191 of the combined total of 597 runs that England scored in the two innings of the match that India won by nine wickets.
The legendary Erapalli Prasanna, arguably one of the best off-spinners that the world has ever seen, said Ashwin bowled under “self-imposed pressure” and tried “too hard” in the second innings as India huffed and puffed to victory on the fifth and final day.
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“It looked to me that he was bowling under self-imposed pressure. If the wickets are going to be like what we saw in Motera, we might as well consider looking Ashwin as an all- rounder and include Harbhajan Singh in the XI,” Prasanna told MAIL TODAY. “The support of a third spinner is needed.” Ashwin bowled 70 overs in the match and bagged four wickets — three in the first essay and a solitary one in the second — while his co-spinner, left-armer Pragyan Ojha, captured nine wickets on a pitch that was offering slow turn.
The performance of Ashwin, who seems to have the confidence of the new Sandeep Patil-headed selection committee too, has prompted the likes of Prasanna to point to the chinks in his armour.
Prasanna, known to spin a web around the best of batsmen with his deceptive bowling, also noticed that Ashwin, playing his ninth Test match, was tensed up and tried too many things.
“The English batsmen are playing Ashwin pretty well. Unfortunately, he was trying too hard, and the opposition is playing him easily. He bowled too short, and didn’t make the batsmen come forward to play, which is the first rule for spinners,” explained the man who bagged 189 wickets in 49 Tests.
“The percentage of his bad and good balls was 60-40.” As a result, Prasanna pointed out, the four wickets that the 26-year-old Ashwin managed in the match were too few for his class.
“He didn’t bowl too well even in the first innings. He took three wickets; that’s nothing. He should have three more wickets,” he felt.
Suggesting the way ahead, Prasanna said: “First, he has to assess himself.”
Bishan Singh Bedi avoided commenting on Ashwin or Ojha, but was unsure about the aim of preparing spin-friendly pitches and calling it home advantage.
“We are, maybe, just stretching it [home advantage] a bit too far. We need to do need some soul searching. Why are we playing two pacers on pitches like these?” he wanted to know.
Rajinder Goel, another superb left-arm spinner who once competed with Bedi for the national berth, concurred with Bedi on the issue of pitches.
“Don’t depend too much on pitches,” he suggested to the spinners.
Goel, who many believe was simply unlucky not to have played Test matches, also agreed with Bedi that if pitches are going to be like the one at the Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium, the team management should think of making changes for the second Test.
“Harbhajan is a much better off-spinner [than Ashwin] and he should be included in the XI. They should drop either a batsman or a pacer,” suggested Goel.
Former India left-arm spinner Maninder Singh felt that Ashwin, who has bagged 53 wickets in nine Tests, mostly bowled a wrong line in the first Test.
“He was trying to bowl a legstump line. You have to stick to basics on a pitch like this. And he was trying to bowl all kinds of deliveries – ‘doosra’, ‘teesra’ and ‘carrom ball’ etc,” Maninder told MAIL TODAY.