By Wisden India Staff in Mirpur
“I’m probably at the top of my bowling game, the ball is landing exactly where I want it to,” says India spinner
In the modern era where teams regularly visit different parts of the world and where individuals play franchise-based Twenty20 cricket across the globe, players are exposed to different conditions on a regular basis and the fear of the unknown, or even the unfamiliar, has largely gone out of the game.
Even so, South Africa must rustle up all its adaptability skills when it takes on India in the second semifinal of the ICC World T20 on Friday (April 4).
Where South Africa came through Group 1 of the Super 10s in Chittagong, India played – and won –all four games in Group 2 at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, which will host the knockout games. India’s familiarity with the conditions apart, South Africa must quickly get used to conditions that, historically, are alien to it, something R Ashwin was happy to point out on Thursdayevening.
“We know what to expect from this ground and the pitch, but of course, when it comes down to the semifinal, it’s anybody’s game,” Ashwin, the man of the match in India’s last two victories, said. “Whoever plays well on that particular day will have the advantage. But yes, we do hold an edge, having played so many games here. We know what to expect.”
One of the reasons why Ashwin and Amit Mishra, the leggie who has also won two man-of-the-match awards, have been successful is because they have been brave enough to give the ball air, which in turn has allowed them to make capital of the purchase on offer. Ashwin spoke of his own approach, and of the “guts” it took to slow the ball down, especially in T20 cricket.
“Once you’ve planned what you’re going to do at the top of your mark, it’s very hard to change unless you pause at the end. In terms of variation of pace, you need a lot of guts. If you’re at the top of your game, you can land the ball exactly where you want it to land. But apart from that, to actually slow the ball down when the batsman’s going after you is a key component of this particular game, for which you need quite a lot of guts,” he emphasised. “And if you’ve gone for a six, it requires even more guts to come back the next ball. Those are the key components of a winning game, as far as I’m concerned.”
“It’s not about what I’m doing or where I’m given the ball. I’ve been playing alongside Mahi (Mahendra Singh Dhoni) for some time, and he probably knows where to use me and where not to use me,” Ashwin said of bowling with the new ball. “I’m always open to bowling in any situation, so for me it doesn’t make any difference. In the last two or three months, I feel that I’m probably at the top of my bowling game. When I reach that phase, I pretty much don’t practise at all. That’s a phase I’m in right now. The ball is landing exactly where I want it to.”
Of the potential competition with Mishra, Ashwin said, “To be really honest, I’ve never bothered about who’s behind my shoulder. That’s not how I play my cricket. I believe in improving every day, and I don’t say it just for the sake of it. Unless you don’t keep improving, you’re not going to last the distance. You lose out. It’s pretty much like a business model, that’s how I view it. Somebody’s behind my shoulder? They can stay there. I’ll just keep doing what I do best.”
South Africa may not appear to have the same spin resources as India, but Ashwin warned against taking Imran Tahir, JP Duminy and possibly Aaron Phangiso lightly. “When it comes to international cricket, there’s a very small margin between the quality of spinners. Everybody’s bound to have a certain amount of quality in them,” he observed. “It’s all about the mental makeup of the spinner and what amount of guts he has in that particular scenario. It’ll be handling pressure that makes the difference, because Imran Tahir has been in top form. And I expect Phangiso to play. When that happens, you’re pretty much evened out in the amount of spinners both teams will play. It comes down to how well your spinners handle it.”
Should it go on to win the World T20, India will be the first team to hold the World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the World T20 at the same time, but Ashwin said neither that, nor South Africa’s poor knockout record in ICC events, had come up for discussion within the team. “They (South Africa) will have to use it (their ICC record) for themselves for our advantage,” he smiled. “We’ve not looked at things like what we’ve done in the past, holding all three titles. That’s our advantage. If they want to do it, it’s their problem.
“We’ve never been a team that’s believed in talking about all these things, because it’s only going to make things tougher for you,” he said of the potential treble. “I’m not a firm believer in it, but four teams in the semifinal, everybody has a 25% chance. That’s the numbers game. Most of these guys (his teammates) were involved in the Champions Trophy, so that’s one experience everybody can draw from. Apart from that, the one thing that the young side will have an advantage over the other teams is that we don’t have any baggage. We’ve not lost many big competitions, there will be no scars with us. We have nothing to lose. We never walked into this tournament as favourites, and we wouldn’t want to be tagged as favourites. We just go in and enjoy ourselves.”
The law of averages, Ashwin twinkled, was something he believed in when he was a fan, ‘but not now’, then encountered a question on whether the Indians were peaking at the right time. “Pretty much all through the year, we’ve been playing cricket,” he offered. “You cannot be at the top all tournaments of the year. You can go off the boil, up and down, here and there. But when you start a tournament off so well and you go through the big phases, we like to think we are in with a good chance of peaking at the right time.”