Ashwin looks lost on tracks that are not generously helpful – in contrast to Ojha

Ravichandran Ashwin loves a helpful wicket, when his experiments with flight, spin and the mystery balls can be laid out in an impressive arsenal on the turning track © Getty Images

Ravichandran Ashwin is regarded as the great spinning hope of India. However, he is increasingly shows signs of giving up when the conditions are not tailor-made for his brand of bowling. Arunabha Sengupta contrasts this with the accurate Pragyan Ojha who perseveringly pegs away to be successful even on unhelpful surfaces.

If we rewind a year, we will remember an incredible third Test at the Wankhede. After the first three and a half days which saw tall scores and the so-near-yet-so-far-heartbreak of Sachin Tendulkar falling for 94, the match made a mockery of all the soothsayers hinting at a drab stalemate to end in one of the most tantalising edge of the seat climaxes ever witnessed in the country.

Ravichandran Ashwin played a memorable role in the thriller – and one does not refer just to his 103 runs in the first innings, nine wickets in the match and the almost comical running that resulted in the run-out to end the match with the scores tied and India one wicket down. It also has to do with his observation on the first day that the wicket was not really helpful for the spinners.

Here was a newcomer, just two matches into his career, having picked up 13 wickets in his previous two Tests against a West Indian team not really well known for their skills against the turning ball. And it sounded like he was demanding a wicket that released puffs of dust and turned square from Day One.

What this tell-tale reaction indicated is unfortunately becoming increasingly apparent as he tweaks his way through his Test career. Ashwin loves a helpful wicket, when his experiments with flight, spin and the mystery balls can be laid out in an impressive arsenal on the turning track. He likes weapons picked out at his leisure against hapless batsmen, each arrow in his quiver full of variety, and their tips dipped in the readymade poison from the surface. He wants every delivery of his to be like balls of cannon, sending the opposition quivering for cover.

But, once the turf is stripped of the venom, rendered plumb or easy or even a trifle slow for the turn to hasten batsmen into feet of uncertainty, Ashwin finds himself at a loss. His wide array of experimentation comes up against a huge question mark which they cannot turn past. When accuracy and patience is the key, the bowler who can be frightening on rank turners himself runs out of ideas. He becomes increasingly mediocre.

His six for 31 and six for 54 against the Kiwis in Hyderabad showed what a handful he could be on treacherous tracks against inexperienced players of spin. But when in the very next Test at Nagpur when Ross Taylor and Kruger van Wyck decided to fight back, Ashwin signalled ominous indications of running out of ideas, finishing with one for 82. It was the metronomic ball on the proverbial coin Pragyan Ojha who had to restrict the visitors with five for 99. In the second innings, with turn on offer and the signs of collapse in the air, Ashwin was back in his mettle, picking up five for 69.

The series against England has been more revealing. With the tourists struggling to come to grips with the mysteries of the slow bowling of the subcontinent, Ashwin quickly picked up three for 80 in the first innings at Ahmedabad. However, with Alastair Cook pitching his tent on the increasingly slower pitch, he looked confused and lackadaisical in the second innings. One for 111 from 43 overs is scarcely the return expected from a frontline Indian spinner on home tracks, with the opposition already twisted into a knot, facing the ignominy of following on. It was left to the untiring and canny Ojha to point out the merits of accuracy with four for 120 in 55 overs.

The first innings at the Wankhede has also underlined the same grave shortcoming in the otherwise versatile repertoire of the off-spinner. With Cook going strong yet again and Kevin Pietersen forging a huge partnership with his captain, Ashwin looked increasingly ordinary. Ojha, persevering and sticking to the basics, pegged away to get another five, but Ashwin could only return with two for 145.

It is still early days, and the entire nation hopes that the gifted spinner can improve this aspect of his game. Ashwin will do well to remember that he won’t get tailor-made wickets all his career. And to gauge the value of continual accuracy, he need not look any further than the greatest match winner India has ever had – Anil Kumble.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)