Ashwin Ought To Be Given A Bigger Role With The Bat
Ashwin’s the 3rd highest scorer for India in overseas Tests this year with 175 at an average of 25
India find themselves in a calamitous situation as they arrive at Trent Bridge, a ground where they have traditionally struggled, for the third Test against England. Forget about winning the series, salvaging a draw on one of these Tests and avoiding a whitewash seems a bleak possibility after the manner in which the batting collapsed in the last two Tests.
In their last nine innings in England, India have managed to score over 200 just once and the onus is on the batting line-up to offer support to one of the best attacks India have ever taken overseas.
In the five Tests India have played in South Africa and England so far, their fast bowlers average a miserly 24.75. They have been quite brilliant in restricting the hosts - be it South Africa or England - but the batsmen have just not backed them up. Virat Kohli has been neck and crop above the rest of the batsmen with 526 runs in the 5 Tests India have played abroad.
That the next best - Hardik Pandya - has 209 at an average of 20.90 perhaps tells a tale about India's wretched situation. The third name in the list is interesting for he seemed like one of the best equipped Indian batsmen at Lord's under terrifying conditions and a dangerously pumped up James Anderson.
Ravichandran Ashwin. The off-spinning all-rounder was not even India’s primary spinner in these conditions the last time India toured but with renewed vigour and a revamped bowling arsenal, Ashwin had become a vital cog in India's bowling attack. But it is his batting that is taking centre stage now and becoming the talk of the town. A prominent Indian website even promoted the idea of gambling with Ashwin at the top of the order for he seemed much better equipped at handling the new ball bowlers than the present trio of opening batsmen.
Ashwin is the third highest run scorer for India in overseas Tests this year with 175 runs at an average of 25. But more than sheer numbers, it is the manner in which he soaked the pressure and countered the English bowlers on a very English wicket that garnered attention. His unbeaten 33 at Lord's in the second innings with the side staring down the abyss was a high quality innings that not only infused some positivity to the innings but also gave India the belief that they could still find their way back in the series.
Ashwin's record in England is an interesting one. Four years back, he came back into the XI for the fourth Test at Manchester and had an immediate impact on the batting with scores of 40 and 46*. Both times the decisive factor was strike rate. The counter-attacking knocks came at a strike rate of 95.23 and 82.14. Even in the Lord's Test, Ashwin was a step ahead of his mates, scoring at 76.31 and 68.75 in knocks of 29 and 33*.
There are factors that back the belief that Ashwin should be an integral part of India's batting plans. Dismissal summary-wise, Ashwin has fallen to the 'go-to’ length in England - the fuller length - just once in his eight innings’ in the country. For the record, the likes of Pujara, Kohli, Rahane and Karthik have had their fair share of troubles against this length.
Kick-starting an innings in this part of the world is no easy task either and Ashwin has thrived here as well with just one score in the range of 0-9 in his eight innings’. On seven out of eight occasions he has managed to get a start and has remained not-out in two of them suggesting a trend where he runs out of partners.
Given the manner in which he has stepped up and the rest of the batting has floundered, the time might be ripe for Kohli to given his trusted bowling lieutenant a go in the top six like he does in the sub-continent. Unlike the others, Ashwin has also shown more compactness in defence and has countered the movement into the batsmen much better than the others.
While going overboard and giving him the role of an opener at Trent Bridge might be stretching it, Ashwin has definitely showcased a temperament befitting a top order bat. In a world of edge, misses and quandaries, Ashwin has found a way to survive, even thrive. He has done it in the past and has the potential to do it now. With options few and far between, India could well turn to the reliability of Ashwin to help the batsmen out, even show them the way.