IND vs AUS: How Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin went off line in Indore

IND vs AUS: Near the end of the opening day’s play on Indore crumbler, when Australia were cruising at 108 for 1 after India were shot down for 109, Sunil Joshi, former India spinner and selector began thinking about sending a text message to Ravindra Jadeja. Eventually, at stumps after Australia were 156 for 4, Joshi would send a message across. “Your length could be better. Too full, now”.

“Jadeja had changed his lengths near the end of the first day and got the wickets,” Joshi tells The Indian Express. “But it was on my mind.” On Star Sports Kannada, where Joshi commentated on the game, he would also cue up a pitch map. Jadeja was 58% percent on full length during the phase Australia ran to 108. He changed track in the third session, drawing back the length to 50% on a good length, and Australia lost three further wickets.

“When Jadeja hits the good length, putting the doubt in batsmen’s minds, with his speed, he will get the wickets. With other bowlers, the batsmen can adjust but Jadeja’s speed makes it difficult for them,” Joshi says.

India’s Ravichandran Ashwin, right, celebrate with teammate Shreyas Iyer, left, dismissal of Australia’s Usman Khawaja, bottom, during the third day of third cricket test match between India and Australia in Indore, India, Friday, March 3, 2023. (AP Photo/Surjeet Yadav)

“We gave away quite a few runs in the first innings in those conditions,” head coach Rahul Dravid would say in Ahmedabad on Tuesday.

The Indian spinners have been more often than not really good this series but there have been phases like in the first innings of the last Test or even in the Australian chase, they have been found a bit lagging. The Indian batsmen didn’t give them runs for them to ease into their role and even an average couple of spells looks damning in the final analysis but such is their quality that they should be a touch disappointed.

There have been two noticeable things in those phases: The lengths and the wide angle of the bowlers (the left-armers Jadeja and Axar Patel in particular).

“Ashwin was also a touch too full,” Joshi says. It was visible in the last innings of the last Test as well, apart from the earlier few innings every now and then. The Australians could lean forward and drive him and as long as they were careful to let the top-hand come through and bat-face go down straight, they weren’t in trouble. In the Delhi collapse and in Nagpur fiasco, they had erred going across the line. But once they sorted that out, when Ashwin’s lengths were full, they could negotiate him.

India’s Ravindra Jadeja, left, and India’s wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat successfully appeals for LBW against Australia’s Travis Head during the first day of third cricket test match between India and Australia in Indore, India, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Surjeet Yadav)

Line of Lyon and Indians

The line of attack was starkly different from the Australians. Nathan Lyon, Todd Murphy and even the left-armer Matthew Kuhnemann attacked the middle-stump line, getting it to turn or straighten from there. Kuhnemann delivered from close to the stumps but Jadeja would often drift wide of the crease, and attack the off stump line.

On a regular pitch, it’s a pretty decent line of attack but on a rank turner, the ball, when it spun, broke away too sharply without offering much threat. The Australians would push their bat in line, and if the turning ball beats them, so be it; they didn’t push out their hands to chase them. When the ball skidded on straight, the bat-face was straight enough to keep it out or nurdle it around.

“At times when you go a bit wider, the trajectory gets a touch flat… you are relying on just one thing: lbw with that ball that angles in with the arm,” Joshi says. “From wide of the crease for him to land consistently within the line of the stumps became a bit tough. Also, in the first two Tests, the Australians were falling to that line right?”

So perhaps Jadeja pursued that line in the last game as well. The wide angle of release, especially when he doesn’t attempt to rip in the revolutions, has also led to the ball floating too full on occasions. “With that angle, you are not allowing the ball to spin, you are leaving everything on the pitch to do the job for you. To be fair, he did start going a touch closer to the stumps later on,” says Joshi.

That he did. Here the focus is on the phases like Dravid mentions where the Indians bowlers “gave away quite a few runs”.

The Australians constantly attacked the stumps and aided by the iffy batting of the Indians, who as Sunil Gavaskar pointed out on these pages on Monday, didn’t quite get their top hand into the game as much as they should have, they were sitting ducks.

Australia’s Nathan Lyon acknowledges the crowed after taking eight wickets during the second day of third cricket test match between India and Australia in Indore, India, Thursday, March 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Surjeet Yadav)

On Tuesday afternoon at Ahmedabad nets, Ashwin hit the good length rather well. In the series so far, at various phases, he had been loading the ball a touch too high. In the past, at times, he has tinkered with his load-up and releases. Or even in the way, he raises his right arm to touch his shoulder almost before release.

The former bowling coach Bharat Arun once explained to this newspaper. “When he loaded up in front of the face almost, it helped him stay upright and generate more overspin. When he would arch back after loading when he wants more dip and turn. He would do little things: lean forward at release, weight in front, when he wants to bowl slower without making it obvious with his arm-speed.

“Occasionally, little errors would creep into his bowling. I remember once in 2014, the alignment went a bit wrong. The front leg was going too far across in the delivery stride, a matter of inches. It comes from the body positioning, the alignment from the back foot impact to the front. It’s a dominos effect. The first thing goes wrong, then the subsequent ones tend to go out of shape. Just as batsmen talk about being in shape, bowlers need that as it affects their balance. With Ashwin, the body position had changed a bit, and we realigned it. Then things fell into place. My job would be to observe these little things, see if something is going wrong, and point out if necessary.”

Hopefully, Sairaj Bahutule, the spin consultant in this series, if not Paras Mhambrey the bowling coach, are doing that role now.

In the first Test, the Australians had retreated too far into the crease against him and suffered. At Delhi, in the first innings, they just about tilted forward without much conviction. In the second innings, of course, they combusted on the sweep. In the third Test, they started to take a meaningful forward stride and used the full-bat face to tackle him. Now it’s up to Ashwin to come up with the answer in this final game.

In the nets, on Tuesday, there was a ball that he delivered almost perfectly. A slight arch-back, ripping release on the good length and even as Shubman Gill tried to lean forward to defend, the ball turned sharply and quickly to beat the prod and rap him in front of the stumps. Ashwin turned around to appeal but Bahutule, acting as an umpire, would playfully say missing leg. So did Gill. Ashwin took a couple of steps towards Gill and said, “I am taking the DRS and that’s out.” If he can replicate that ball in the Test – the length, the pace, the middle-stump line, the quickish turn, he will definitely trouble the Aussies.

The Ahmedabad pitch isn’t likely to be a rank turner and so Jadeja’s off-stump line can work pretty effectively if he can be consistent with his length. But for variation, would he come a bit closer and attack the stumps too? How would the Indian batsmen play the Australian spinners line of attack? These little big things will decide the Test and the series.

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