Going from white ball to red ball takes time, from sleeping to bowling. Everything becomes a habit if you follow it for a few days. So Ashwin started by reversing old habits where if Rajasthan didn’t have a game, he went to bed early, Prasanna Agoram, a data analyst who worked with Ashwin, told The Indian Express.
Giving up sleep is only a small change; Tinkerman is thoughtfully working on other vital changes needed to make the only test against Australia successful at the Oval.
Prasanna has been inundated with curious questions of all sorts: what is the extent of spin at the Oval this season and in the past – not just the total figure, but each day; what is the ideal trajectory for different players on days when there is no spin; what strokes have Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith used against spinners in county cricket this season; how has Usman Khawaja handled spinners in England in the past?
Prasanna, whose experience was highly regarded by the South Africans during his long stint with them, explains some of Ashwin’s data.
He asks the extent of the turnaround on the Oval this season and in the last few years on each day because he will get an accurate idea of what to expect from the batsmen. If Australia are batting first and the turn is small, they will definitely use their legs. A player like Smith will not hesitate to come down the track and throw the ball over mid-wicket or over the covers. So when you know the degree of turn is minimal, you will avoid bowling certain pitches and field accordingly, Prasanna said.
The degree of turn he anticipates will also help him choose the trajectory necessary for his plan.
Whether it will be a flatter trajectory or a high-handed trajectory, whether a side spin or overspin will be effective. He was asking me what trajectory is appropriate for player A and player B. He was analyzing what strokes Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith have used against spinners in the past, and since the latter two are even playing cricket this season, he is studying them as well. You can’t try them in matches, so he tries them in training to see what fits the conditions, Prasanna said.
Through extensive research, Ashwin also analyzed what Nathan Lyon has done in the past in England. For a bowler who’s always beenyes compared to Lyon, Ashwin has overtaken him in every aspect in the last few years, and his average of 28.11 is better than the Australian (31.62) in England. Not just Lyon, to put it in perspective, Ashwin’s average is lower than Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Rangan Herath. Only Muttiah Muralidharan (19.20) and Shane Warne (21.94) have an enviable average in England.
It remains to be seen how the field will behave at the Oval. For the past two seasons, Surrey’s home First Class team has staffed their team with four Quicks and one part-time spinner. Even India played with four pacers and Ravindra Jadeja as the only spinner in the 2021 Test won here against England; Umesh Yadav distinguished himself with six feints in that game, and the highlight was the corked nip-back that stunned Joe Root. Ashwin will hope that this time he gets a game at the Oval, which takes the test for the first time in June. Although he didn’t play in the test at the Oval, he did play for Surrey in the game against Somerset, where he went 6/27 in the second inning.
He played for Nottingham during the 2019 season. Most of Ashwin’s 34 wickets were taken while attacking the stump line. On pitches that were mostly brown in June-July, Ashwin was getting feints in the top order mostly by using a slightly flatter trajectory and tossing them to the bottom order only to lure them in.
Only if the bowler knows what the batsman is up to can he plan better. You can’t just rely on his weaknesses and strengths. You have to dig deeper and see if he lunges forward in defense or plays the bat into the pads during defense. Based on that, you can put a square foot or someone behind him in the catcher’s position. You have to know where you can beat the batsman. When there are no roughs, Australian batsmen usually tend to come in on the back foot and cut, so you need to change trajectories to make sure that if they do, there is a high risk of the ball hitting the top of the stump if they miss. Those are the questions Ashwin puts to himself when he prepares, Prasanna said.
As teams seek to set the pace with the bat, Ashwin is also working to create a pattern on the field that allows him to dictate the pace. As a result, there are at least three fielders in positions to catch under the bow, three to prevent batsmen from turning into doubleand three border guards.
In modern cricket you can’t afford to be in attack all the time. If you pick a wicket and attack more, someone like (Johnny) Bairstow can change the game in half an hour by picking big empty pockets. So when you have three fielders saving boundaries, you cut off his best strikes. And when you only get singles, he is forced to take his chances. When you bowl on that pitch, you control the flow as opposed to the batting team, Prasanna added.
And then there’s the infamous UK weather. In the UK, the weather can change very quickly and it will affect drift and stuff. There won’t be a big turnaround on the first day, so Ashwin is analyzing what strokes the batsmen can execute, Prasanna said. In India, when Ashwin takes the field, he has the opportunity to attack from the first ball. But in England, he has to consider the pitch, the batsmen, the weather and the proposed turn. He has been very meticulous and thorough in his preparation for the match, to the point of breaking down the simulation of the match according to the time and day he will play.
For much of the Indian Test tour to England in 2021, all the talk the night before the match and before the draw revolved around one theme: Ashwin in the game or not. Then they came out with four pacers. That question is up in the air again, but Ashwin is doing his best to be ready when the time comes.