Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha's spin bowling combination bodes well for India

R Ashwin (left) and Pragyan Ojha © PTI

Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have formed a lethal spin partnership on home soil for India. In tandem, they have won nine Test matches for their country since teaming up in late 2011. Nishad Pai Vaidya analyses their statistics and what works for them.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha are a dangerous combination on home soil. The off-spinner and the slow left-armer complement each other well with their contrasting styles and have asserted their dominance as a partnership since they came together in November 2011. As India sealed another home series victory, against the West Indies, both Ashwin and Ojha were the highest wicket-takers, spinning a web around the tourists.

While Ojha has been around since 2009, Ashwin only came into the Test squad in November 2011. Ashwin’s debut was against West Indies at Delhi, which was also Ojha’s comeback game. In their first Test together, they spun the West Indian batting and helped India register a victory. Since then, they have played crucial roles in numerous Test victories at home and have been formidable replacements as a spin duo for Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. Here are their records when they have bowled in tandem:

R Ashwin 13 77 25.84 6 1 6/31 12/85 53.9
Pragyan Ojha 13 71 24.26 7 1 6/47 10/89 57.6

A look at the stats suggests how they have matched each other. While Ashwin is six wickets ahead, Ojha has a better average of 24.26. Not only that, but Ojha also has an extra fifer to his credit. Otherwise, their figures are quite comparable and it shows how well they have gelled as a spinning unit.

However, Ashwin is India’s preferred spinner and if they have to pick the lone tweaker, he makes the cut ahead of Ojha. During the tour to Australia in 2011-12, Ashwin played three Tests even as Ojha didn’t get a look in. Then, early this year, Harbhajan Singh played two Tests against Australia at home at Ojha’s expense. This shows that the team management has more confidence in Ashwin and he might play instead of Ojha when they travel to South Africa next month.

But what exactly is the reason for the team management’s preference for Ashwin? What is it about Ashwin that wins him greater support? Ojha is the classier option as he relies on flight, length and the arm-ball to pick wickets. On the other hand, Ashwin has numerous variations which include the carom ball. Those variations may strengthen Ashwin’s case as the batsmen find him more difficult to read. Perhaps Ashwin’s more than useful batting ability is something that also goes in his favour. As far as fielding is concerned, both Ashwin and Ojha aren’t among the fastest on the park.

The great thing is that they have always backed each other in games. For example, against West Indies at Delhi in 2011, Ojha bagged a six-for in the first innings and Ashwin followed suit with the same in the second. In the second innings at Mumbai in the same series, Ojha got six and Ashwin accounted for the other four. When Ashwin scalped 12 for the game against New Zealand at Hyderabad, Ojha took six off the remaining eight wickets. In the next game at Bangalore, Ojha took five in the first innings and Ashwin did the same in the second. These details show how much they have complemented each other on field.

Until now, they have only bowled to West Indies, New Zealand, England and Australia on home soil. These sides aren’t the best players of spin and Ashwin and Ojha have used that to their advantage well. However, it was only England that created problems for the duo and made them work harder. Ojha had a decent start during that series, but it went pear-shaped from there on. On the other hand, Ashwin over-emphasised on variations and paid the price for it. He then made amends during the series against Australia and the results were evident.

The Ashwin-Ojha pair could face a stern test when India plays against Sri Lanka or even South Africa. Sri Lankan batsmen are brought up on the staple diet of spin and would pose the most serious challenge. On the other hand, South Africans have a good record in India in recent times and have tackled the spin menace much better than some other sides.

With the emergence of Ravindra Jadeja, the spin bowling department gets more tooth as his left-arm spin can be difficult to deal with. Once he is recovers from the strain in shoulder, he would enter the side and India can have a strong three-pronged spin attack. But this combination can only be used in India as overseas conditions may warrant more importance for pace.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)