There were a number of contenders for bowler of the month for March, but none could top Ravichandran Ashwin.
Imran Tahir finished as the top wicket taker of the World Twenty20, taking a wicket once every 10 balls.
Samuel Badree kicked dust in Sunil Narine's eyes, Amit Mishra was a leg-spinning bundle of joy and Rangana Herath had one really rather good spell.
Even Dale Steyn could stake a claim after a very good run in the World T20.
In the end, though, it was Ashwin who came up trumps. He took 11 wickets in the World T20 at an average of 11.27.
Although his performance in the final of the World T20 against Sri Lanka was somewhat underwhelming, he was superb overall. It's not only his ability to take wickets that made him the top choice, but also his ability to stifle the scoring rate, forcing pressure to build and batsmen to lose their minds.
Not once in the entire tournament did he concede more than 30 runs and his 4-for-11 against Australia was fantastic to watch. There was also the carrom ball to dismiss Hashim Amla in the semi-final, a fantastic delivery that would fox any batsman in the world.
Ashwin is the kind of bowler who likes to experiment and who likes to keep on changing and learning. In the lead up to the World T20 during the Asia Cup, Ashwin had a new approach once again. After two average tours against South Africa and New Zealand, Ashwin had to try something, so he tried to model his action after Sunil Narine.
The results weren't immediate, and he finished the tournament with nine wickets in four games at an average of 18.55. The change in action caused much criticism from some quarters. Maninder Singh was one of the most notable critics. He was quoted by The Times of India as saying the change in action could destroy Ashwin's career.
What is he trying to do? He was a wicket-taking bowler for us, but this is going to kill him. I don't know how the coaches are allowing him to do this. Don't forget Narine is a freak and his action has always been like that. If a spinner tries to copy Narine at the age of 25, he will not last in international cricket for too long.
Ashwin, clearly not one for taking note of the naysayers, obviously wasn't bothered. On the eve of the game against Australia, Ashwin revealed why he was flirting with the newly adopted action. He was quoted by the Indian Express as saying:
I want to do something different. I want to keep trying something—unless you try you don’t go and venture and find out what can work or not. I’d never bowled in full-sleeves before. So I wanted to see how it would feel. And I just wanted to see if you can get more revs on the ball if you can do a little bit with your elbow, as much as that is. That’s what it was all about. You can get a lot of advantage with these things—so why should I lag behind if someone else is getting a competitive edge?
Brief change, innovation, foolish—call it what you want—Ashwin is clearly the type of player who always wants to push himself no matter what. His performance in the World T20 was down to some old-school spin bowling and his carrom ball. That ball, which made him so effective in the first place, proved to be his most potent weapon.
It's not the first time Ashwin has tried something new; he has admitted in the past, as per ESPNCricinfo, that he uses tennis ball cricket to help him learn new tricks and improve his game.
Spinners are the most effective bowlers in T20 cricket. They are transformed in the format because batsmen are forced to attack instead of just being able to see out the overs. The bowlers like Ashwin who combine the ability to take wickets with the ability to stifle the runs deserve the most credit, though, and if that requires a little bit of innovation here and there, who are we to judge?
Data and stats via ESPNCricinfo.
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