What did he think about the two balls he bowled to dismiss Alastair Cook twice, R. Ashwin was asked after the first Test. “They were the same delivery,” he smiled.
Both times, the ball dipped on Cook as he was drawn forward; it spun past the outside edge and hit the top of off-stump. Anyone watching the second innings on TV may have been forgiven for thinking it was a replay. After the first day’s play, Ashwin had offered a more detailed, nuanced explanation in an interview with the host broadcaster.
“The one I got Cook with was not really a top-spinner but it was when I cocked my wrist a little bit and went over the ball with my index finger to try and get a bit of dip on it. It actually dipped at the right time,” he said.
Ashwin is happy with his bowling and that is excellent news for India.
On the 2014 tour, he sent down 35 overs in two Tests, managing only two wickets at 33.66. When he arrived in England this time, he had not played any international cricket – except the Afghanistan Test – since the South Africa series in January, and that had not gone very well. That he finished with seven wickets at Edgbaston will have reassured Virat Kohli enormously.
Ashwin describes ‘rhythm’ as the way the ball settles in his fingers; the deeper it sits on his middle finger, he says, the more revolutions he can get on it with his index. The ball must feel rather good in his hands right now. "He bowled really well with a lot of control,” says
Harbhajan Singh, who is commentating on the series on British television, says: “This was a nice wicket to bowl on and there was a lot of bounce and side-spin as well. You have to have that drop on the ball to get it to jump. He is a very intelligent bowler, who understands his game.”
His stint with Worcestershire in the County Championship (Division 2) last year, when he claimed 20 wickets from four matches, has evidently helped Ashwin a great deal. “One thing I realised was the speed at which spinners have to bowl here,” he told the BCCI website.
“Wickets are extremely slow, even on the first day. You can have a bit of bounce but if the pace is not right the batsmen get a lot of time to play the same ball on the front or the back-foot.” He also understood, Ashwin admitted, how to grip the Dukes ball, which tends to slip.
One other thing that has changed since Ashwin's last visit here is his action, with his approach to the crease a lot smoother now. “I’ve been working on simplifying my action a bit, making sure I get more body into the ball and try and create something in the air,” he said.
“A lot of bad habits had crept in with my arms coming in and all that. I’ve had to work against my own will and try and tell myself I had to do it.”
Ashwin kept England guessing at Edgbaston: there was the off-break, the back-flipper, and the ball that shot out of his fingers and swung away from the right-hander. His display was not just about the wickets: it was also about making a statement, about telling England’s batsmen he was no different from the Ashwin they saw in Mumbai two years ago, that he was there to torment them for five more weeks.
That performance should also help Ashwin's own confidence. He is no longer in India's limited-overs teams and poor returns in a couple of matches could have made his spot in the Test side uncertain. Instead, he will swagger into Lord’s chomping at the bit.