If Ravichandran Ashwin is being hailed as the best spinner in contemporary cricket, the 29-year-old lanky Indian owes it as much to those long fingers as to an ever-ticking brain.
Since his test debut against West Indies four years ago, the tweaker from Chennai has emerged as a shrewd off-spinner who relishes his battle against the best and the sight of batsmen misreading his carrom ball.
His penchant for outsmarting key rival batsmen manifested in Sri Lanka earlier this year when he soured Kumar Sangakkara’s farewell by dismissing the retiring great in each of his last four innings.
The same trait resurfaced in Nagpur on Friday, when he foxed AB de Villiers, having dismissed the talismanic South African in the first two Twenty20 Internationals at the start of the tour as well.
“The dismissal was quite well-planned, honestly,” Ashwin said after his 12-wicket match haul helped India take a series-clinching 2-0 lead in the four-match series.
“I had not given him a single carrom ball all through this tour. Today I thought on this wicket, to get it to straighten from wide of the crease, I think it was a very, very good ball.”
Ashwin gave an insight into a smart cricketing brain when explaining how he changes his bowling approach in the second innings of a test match.
“Most of the cues come when I go out to bat there. When I was defending … there was a difference in the first innings and the second.
“The ball was not spinning viciously. It slowed down a bit, so I knew we had to be a touch fuller to bring them on the front (foot) and also vary our paces and trajectories.”
Ashwin was the architect of India’s 2-1 series victory in Sri Lanka and his 24 scalps against South Africa means it would be difficult to deny him a second successive man-of-the-series award.
“He is a world class spinner, probably the best in the world right now,” India captain VIrat Kohli said of Ashwin who has claimed 55 wickets this year, the most by any bowler.
“He’s stepped up in a big way for us, even in Sri Lanka. He is one of the main reasons why we’ve been able to win back-to-back series,” added Kohli.
The rank turners India rolled out for South Africa have taken some of the sheen off Ashwin’s feat but few doubt the skill of the bowler whose 169 wickets is the most claimed by a spinner in his first 31 tests.
“A batsman goes out there to get a hundred, I go out there to get a five-wicket haul. That’s how I view it,” said Ashwin