On autopilot: Ashwin is showing he is a cut above the rest. Cricket

A familiar sight in Rajasthan Royals’ games this season has been skipper Sanju Samson throwing the ball to R Ashwin in crunch moments. Yuzvendra Chahal might be only one wicket behind his senior spin partner in the overall tally, but it has been seen time and again that Ashwin is the RR look to go when the going gets tough.

Ravichandran Ashwin of Rajasthan Royals celebrates the dismissal of Cameron Green of Mumbai Indians during the Indian Premier League cricket match between Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals in Mumbai, India, Sunday, April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Rajneesh Kakde) (AP)

After 43 matches in IPL 2023, Ashwin has the best economy-rate among the 10 highest wicket-taker bowlers. The off-spinner, fifth with 13 wickets, has bowled his full quota of overs in every match he has played and has a decent economy rate of 7.22.

Ashwin came in impressive form this season. In the four-Test series against Australia in February–March, he took 25 wickets in an innings with two five-fors.

Meanwhile, Rajasthan were being counted among the favorites after finishing runners-up last year. He had assembled a formidable squad with a potent spin attack. In Ashwin and Chahal, they already had two of India’s finest spinners. With Australia leggie Adam Zampa joining the mix, RR would be confident that they have a solution for most situations.

With five wins from nine matches, RR have lived up to the expectations and look like favorites for another playoff berth. There are many experienced players in their team. While Jos Buttler and Yashasvi Jaiswal have led with the bat, it has been Ashwin who has been their standout bowler.

RR head coach and director of cricket Kumar Sangakkara said earlier in the tournament, “Ashwin has focused a lot on his stock ball.” “He relies on his variations but more on his stock ball. He has had a very good series in Test cricket now, so he has bowled a lot of overs and the ball is coming in really well. He is driving his under-cutter and he also has the carrom ball. So, he’s been wonderful to us.

There is a sense of certainty in how the 36-year-old Ashwin has operated. In the last few years, he might have raised questions by trying many variations. This year, he has backed his strengths and used his wide range efficiently while delivering consistent critical breakthroughs.

He has bowled in every phase of an innings – powerplay, middle overs and death – and has gone wicketless in only one game (vs Gujarat Titans). His victims include dangerous batsmen like Glenn Maxwell, Cameron Green, Ishan Kishan, Ajinkya Rahane (twice), Shivam Dube and Kyle Mayer. None of the wickets he has taken is of a tailender.

“The ball is coming out of my hands really well. I’m able to drop it, put on enough revs, use both of my variations. My length and arm ball is really good at the moment,” Ashwin said after his player-of-the-match performance (30 off 22 balls and 2/25) in RR’s win over CSK at his home ground Chepauk.

“For someone like me who bowls at different phases of the game, I have to be ready to bowl at different lengths, speeds and trajectories. I was asked if I was keeping it too simple. I think you can keep it simple only when you have a certain amount of mastery at something. I have to judge where I am and what I am. After playing cricket for so long, I probably judge things and do what I feel is best for that situation.

“At the moment, I am enjoying my bowling. I am trying to deceive the batsmen more in flight, and it is because of where I find myself with the ball right now. I work really hard during this time; this time I have just taken a back seat and my bowling is watching itself.”

Ashwin has played the last 113 ODIs in January 2022. But this is an ODI World Cup year and senior supporters are quietly making their case for a comeback. A major part of IPL 2023 is yet to be played, but so far there is no doubt that Ashwin has looked a cut above other Indian spinners in the league.

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