As Australia ponders the make-up of its top six for the first Test in Adelaide, KEN PIESSE sounds a warning that too many left-handers could spell gloom and doom, especially with R. Ashwin in the opposition dressing room:
NEVER before has a humble finger spinner promised to wreak such destruction on the dawn of a major new Test series as cricket’s new spin king Ravichandran Ashwin.
Ashwin’s likely mastery over Australia’s top six threatens to derail Australia’s bid to recapture the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
His compelling performances over the English in winter could easily see the weakened Australians two-nil down coming to the prestige Tests of the holiday season, in Melbourne and Sydney.
So dominant and so psychologically scarring were Ashwin’s whirring varieties of offies, carroms and dippers that viewing the late-night cricket from afar should have come with an ‘x’ rated warning, especially for Australia’s quartet of lefties, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and Travis Head.
Ashwin may not take 46 wickets like Jim Laker several generations ago prompting the headlines: YOU’VE BEEN LAKERED.
But so imposing is his form and skillset that the Indians are enjoying a rare Test-eve favouritism, despite a record of never having won a series on Australian shores.
Normally it’s the more glamorous types like the sultan of spin Warnie or the expresses like Tyson, Akhtar and Akram who have loomed as the most potent pre-series threats.
But big Ash, discovered less than a decade ago via Twenty20 cricket, is so pivotal to captain Virat Kohli’s trophy quest that on occasions he will be entrusted with the new ball.
At 32 and given continuing fitness and good health, Ashwin could well run down the feats of every bowler in world cricket and even top Muthiah Muralidaran’s phenomenal record of 800 wickets.
His remarkable strike-rate of five-and-a-half wickets per Test match outstrips all of Australia’s most celebrated. The only one ahead of him is Murali, who bowled from one end in many of his Tests.
In the recent series in England, the tall man from Chennai bowled from the seventh over on the opening morning of the first Test in Edgbaston.
It was no surprise that five of his first seven wickets for the Test summer were lefties. And five of the seven were in the top-order.
Like Murali, his ability to veer the ball back at pace and whip it away is decimating the confidence and denting the averages of dozens.
Left-handers average under 20 runs against him. The right-handers: 31-32.
His flight, dip and the sheer revolutions on the ball are confounding.
After a hesitant start in Australia — his average here is 54 runs per wicket — he is improving every year and at the pinnacle of his powers.
With no Smith or Warner in Australia’s first six and only a mixture of hopefuls unused to the pressure of Test combat at its most intense, any Australian score of 350 this summer will be celebrated.
It seems only exhaustion can stop Ashwin and captain Kohli has more options at the other end with his array of quality seamers, almost the equal of Australia’s Big Three
India’s formidable depth is one of the reasons why this team is as menacing as any visiting combo since Clive Lloyd’s West Indians of 1988-89.
KEN PIESSE has covered cricket and football for more than 30 years in Melbourne. Despite that setback, Ken has written, published and edited 86 books on cricket and AFL football to become Australian sport’s most prolific author.
His latest cricket book is David Warner, The Bull, Daring to be Different with Wilkinson Publishing, out now