A file photo of India offspinners Harbhajan Singh and R Ashwin during practice. (AFP)
New Delhi: The difference between R Ashwin and Harbhajan Singh's success with the ball in the recent Chennai Test against Australia owed to a divergence in approach, feels former India opener Aakash Chopra. While Ashwin, in his 13th Test, finished the match with a 12-wicket haul, Harbhajan collected figures of 3 for 142 in his 100th appearance for India and Chopra believes this was indicative of the latter's current predicament as an offspinner.
Writing for the Gulf News, Chopra identified Ashwin's tactic of slowing the pace of the ball on a wearing surface as the key to his success, while Harbhajan failed to follow suit. "Ashwin bowled a lot slower and hence extracted more off the surface. Bowling slower also meant a bit more flight and that allowed the ball to grip the surface, extracting more bounce," wrote Chopra. "On the contrary, Harbhajan chose to bowl a lot quicker and flatter, which resulted in the lack of bite. The problem with bowling fast is that it leads to under-cutting the ball, which results in the ball skidding through the surface instead of gripping it."
Following excellent returns against New Zealand last year, Ashwin struggled against England and managed just 14 wickets in four Tests at an average of 52.64 and strike-rate of 101.5. But in Chennai, and particularly in Australia's first innings when he took a career-best 7 for 103, the Tamil Nadu offspinner took a complete departure from how he bowled against England. Ashwin did not attempt too many variations and stuck to a probing length, drawing the batsmen forward while getting the ball to dip.
This, according to Chopra, was a major reason for Ashwin's success and an aspect of their shared craft that Harbhajan was guilty of not adhering to. "He [Ashwin] resisted the temptation of bowling different variations and stuck to bowling regular offspinners instead. If the normal offspin is causing enough trouble, there isn't a need to do more," felt Chopra. "That's where Harbhajan has lagged behind, not just in this Test match but also in the last couple of years, for his offspinners aren't turning as much as they used to earlier. Whether it has something to do with the over-exposure to T20 cricket or over-reliance on the doosra and top-spinners is something only Harbhajan can and must figure out."
Chopra, who played 10 Tests for India, also picked out the lengths that Ashwin and Harbhajan bowled as having reflected in their respective figures in Chennai. "A spinner's deception lies in throwing the ball up in the air, taking it above the batsman's eye-line and drawing him forward. Ashwin's length in the first Test match was a lot fuller than Harbhajan's and hence produced the desired results. Ashwin drew the batsman forward and induced mistakes," he wrote.
"On the contrary, Harbhajan's length was a little shorter and thus allowed the batsmen to stay on the back-foot. One Test match doesn't make Ashwin a better bowler than Harbhajan, for the senior pro has done it over a decade. Yet, it gives clear indications about Harbhajan's current form, which is a genuine concern."
Do you agree with Aakash Chopra's assessment?