Abundant cricket fights in Australia have effectively been about aggressive batsmen again at firing rate, and the pink ball test in Adelaide will first add a swing bowling to the equation. Not an ideal arrangement for a spin, but that should only ignite the best spinners of the generation, R Ashwin and Nathan Lyon.
At 34 years old, this exam series may be Ashwin’s last big chance, in Australia and in foreign numbers. In 2018-19, he took six wickets in a day Test in Adelaide to help India go 1-0, but broke down to play no further role in a series that ended in a historic win for India.
Very appropriately, Ashwin will have to convince the management that he is the specialist they need in a pink game. Lyon was a Regular Test for Australia thanks to consistency around the world. And he averages over 23.44 in the four pink Tests Australia played and won at Adelaide.
Visiting spinners wrestled in Day and Night Tests. New Zealand’s Mitchell Santner (left arm 31) and Mark Craig (outside spinner 37) shared just three wickets while Pakistani Yasir Shah returned 0/197 last year. Fellow leg spinner Tabraiz Shamsi of South Africa averaged 75 (2/150). England Moeen Ali did not take a wicket (29-3-99-0).
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While Lyon will certainly play, Ashwin has a modest foreign record. And apart from the injury of Ravindra Jadeja, he should also fight against the better beating and electric camping of this one. Hanuma Vihari’s part-time outside spin may also tempt India to choose an extra tailor. Ashwin’s challenge is clear.
However the Lyon-Ashwin rivalry will certainly emerge as the series unfolds. Lyon’s career, at 32, was parallel to that of Ashwin. Their overall transports are not far away, although Lyon has an advantage. Flatter pitches and a cuckoo ball that are not excellent to hold are at home. Friendly subcontinental conditions are a bonus.
There is little to separate by total numbers. Lyon has 390 wickets in 96 Tests while Ashwin has a count of 365 in 71. Lyon however has 191 wickets in 48 home Tests, including 51 in 11 against India.
Ashwin’s early coach is confident he will have plans if chosen for Adelaide. In England’s 2018 Test series, at the ready Edgbaston, Ashwin bowled Alastair Cook cheaply in both innings. This time Steve Smith, a right-hand man unlike the outgoing cook, threatens as a much bigger threat.
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“I want him to surprise the experts, surprise billions of others, getting a match winning spell,” says Sunil Subramaniam, a former left-hander from Tamil Nadu who first noticed Ashwin at a state training camp and guided him.
Doing well in Adelaide will be key for Ashwin when Jadeja regains fitness. But in seven Tests in Australia, he has 27 wickets averaging 48.07 and a strike rate of 94.78. For his 254 wickets at home, he has only 111 away.
Shivlal Yadav, who was India’s top off-spinner during Australia’s 1981-82 and 1985-86 tours, says the key is to adapt.
“To succeed in Australia, the basic thing is to fly the ball. Fly and give a finger turn and you will get the same help from the pitch. The faster you push, the easier it is for the batsmen. That’s why S Venkatraghavan wasn’t so successful in Australia while EAS Prasanna (31 wickets in 8 Tests) has always been and I reasonably succeeded, ”said Yadav, who took 23 wickets in five Tests in Australia.
Ashwin had a good pace in IPL although a shoulder injury forced him to sit down some games. Besides, he wasn’t always the first choice. In 2014-15, debutant leg bowler Karn Sharma was selected over him for the first Test. After an indifferent show in the loss, Ashwin was recalled, and took 12 wickets at 48.66 in three matches.
“I don’t think being in shape or deforming could tell what he’s doing. He can use his experience, intelligence. The only thing would be an injury because he’s had them (during recent tours),” Subramaniam said.
“Lyon is a more classic off-spinner – sideways, half-open and uses his body fully. So he draws more from wickets that don’t help. Ashwin is a finger-and-hand bowler. He’s not much of a body bowler. He makes up for it with his cerebral approach. He uses the delivery angle and the fold. Both intrigue me. If you’re a connoisseur of spinal bowling, you’d love to look at them (go head-to-head). ”
According to data from CricViz, Lyon gives more spin to the ball. Its average deviation is 4.18 degrees to Ashwin’s 3.13. Lyon bowls are fuller and explode out stump. Ashwin prefers to attack the stumps, mid-and-legged.
“Lyon is a brilliant spinner who has proven himself all over the world, whether in South Africa or India. His action is so gentle that even if he casts long spells, he does not lack penetration, ”says Yadav.
At home, Lyon exploits the rebound and aims for traps. With Virat Kohli flying home after the first Test, his main challenge will be how he throws himself at Cheteshwar Pujara. The star of India’s 2018-19 campaign has denied Lyon with two tactics – using the feet to kill the turn, and the pad to avoid chances of a bat cushion. In 11 innings, Lyon dismissed Pujara four times. His average against Pujara is 61. Lyon has a good record against vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane, eliminating him six times in 14 innings, averaging 32.16.
CricViz statistics also show the Aussie bowls wider more often when pulling out more turn with the kookaburra ball that doesn’t have a striking seam like the Indian SG does. While 21.7% of Lyon’s deliveries are comprehensive, only 11.4% of Ashwin’s deliveries adopt that line. Just over 50% of their deliveries are on the outer stump channel.
Numbers also show that Lyon performs more often (36.2% to 30.0%) while Ashwin slows down more (86.6 km / h to 87.4 km / h).
The other side of the fight will be how Ashwin goes against Smith. In an ominous sign for India, Smith met with great form in the ODIs. His record against Indian bowling is frightening, and Australian No. 3 dominated Ashwin. In the 14 innings they encountered, Smith reached him only three times and he averages 116 (348 runs away 570 balls) against him.
This week Ashwin was nominated for the International Cricket Council (ICC) Player of the Decade award on a seven-player list. He is the fastest Indian bowler reaching 50, 100, 150, 200, 250, 300 and 350 wickets per innings.
For such a prolific performer, making a brand overseas has yet to happen.
“If you look at the wickets we’ve played over the past year, the role of the spinner outside India is to hold one end and contribute with the bat. Jadeja did that beautifully. I suspect Ashwin would play the same role. They can’t do more than what traditional finger spinners can do.