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NEW DELHI: Known for his astute intellect and an insatiable curiosity for experimentation, seasoned off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin maintains an unyielding commitment to his bowling craft and is always striving to outwit opposing batsmen, said his longtime national teammate Cheteshwar Pujara.
Ashwin is all set to mark his 100th Test appearance in the fifth and final game against England in Dharamsala, starting March 7.
Ashwin’s journey to the milestone Test has seen remarkable achievements. Recently, the 37-year-old surpassed the 500-wicket mark in the third Test in Rajkot, becoming only the second Indian to achieve the feat.
“Reading batters has always been a key part of what Ash does. He is always one step ahead, alert to the smallest cues. He is constantly observing the batter… No detail is too small for his sharp mind. He puts a lot of effort into each delivery,” Pujara wrote in his column for ‘ESPNcricinfo’.
“Having just become the second quickest bowler to 500 Test wickets, Ash now deserves another equally significant landmark – of 100 Tests. He’s probably a little late getting there for various reasons. But I am really happy for him. He is someone who has always been ready to take the challenge on and do the hard yards for the team. He deserves it the most.
“He has evolved and survived for a long time despite playing multiple formats, and that is mainly because of his innovative mind: he is not afraid or shy to try out new things, even at the cost of failing in the process.”
Pujara, who also played his 100th Test last year but has been out favour currently, said there was no respite for batters while facing Ashwin as he was always on a look-out for taking wicket.
“There’s no respite. If you’re comfortable batting against him from over the stumps, he will change to round the stumps, from where he is able to create that angle where, if the ball goes straight, there’s an edge in play even if you are looking to defend.
“He is constantly observing the batter, his trigger, where the backlift is coming from, which stump he is on. So if a batter is looking to sweep, Ash will go a little fuller and try and block him by bowling the quicker delivery, almost a yorker length, and get an lbw.”
Pujara cited an example of Ashwin’s meticulous preparation before a match.
“He (Ashwin) has spoken previously about how he obsessively pored over videos of Steve Smith several months before India’s tour of Australia in 2020-21. Before the Melbourne Test, I remember we chalked out the plan of having a leg gully against Smith because there was a bit of moisture, which made the ball hold a bit.
“And that is the reason Ash ended up bowling with the new ball. Part of the plan was also that he would come round the stumps to create the angle. And the plan worked – I caught Smith at leg gully.”
Pujara also had the privilege of “enjoying up close” Ashwin’s duels against star England batter Joe Root, another fine player of spin. The two are set to renew their rivalry in Dharamsala again.
“If you look at his record, Root has always been a proactive batter – he will either try to play the sweep or reverse sweep, or try to rotate the strike so he doesn’t have to face six balls off any particular bowler. I’m not saying that Root doesn’t defend well, but overall, his game plan is to put bowlers under pressure.
“To counter that, Ashwin’s tactic has been to keep Root on strike by taking out the short leg or other close-in fielders, leaving just one slip, and placing a fielder at square leg to prevent the single. It doesn’t matter whether you are playing on a flat pitch or on a turner, Ash wants Root to defend those six balls and see how he reacts.
“It is a battle of wills between two top players, which makes for an engrossing contest.”
Pujara also described Ashwin as “probably one of the fittest I have known” among the bowlers, ending up bowling 30, 35, 40 overs in a day, but he still has the stamina to carry on next day.
Outside of cricket matters, Pujara said “you can never win an argument” against Ashwin.
“He is very smart, and his vocabulary is probably among the best in the cricketing fraternity.
“But Ash is not a bad loser. We play table tennis and tennis – two things in which I enjoy having an edge over him! – and he is a good sport.
“I wish I had his incredible memory. That is probably because he has a mind that is always ticking. Away from cricket, he is a voracious reader, enjoys chess online, and is open to learning new things.”
(With inputs from PTI)


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