R Ashwin and P Chawla. These are two cricketers who are under the spotlight as India head towards the decisive phase of the tournament.
Chawla was a surprise pick in the World Cup squad, and was widely believed (at least, by me!) that he would remain a passenger for the duration of the tournament; but one match winning spell against Australia in the warm up game convinced Dhoni that he would be the 2nd choice spinner, at least for the initial phase of the tournament.
R Ashwin, on the other hand, was widely considered to be the best One Day spinner in India and there were not many murmurs when was picked in the squad. While Chawla walked away with the credits in the warm up, Ashwin himself had a good game, never letting the Aussie batsmen get away after he had scored a vital 25 runs in the Indian innings. Still, Dhoni overlooked him, and at that time I believed the reason being, that having an extra off spinner to complement Harbhajan and Pathan would be useless anyway. Well of course, only Dhoni can come up with the interesting explanation he offers.
“You want your bowlers to be in a very good mental state in the second half of the tournament, where you play against the best teams and you will be participating in the knock-out stages – that was one of the main reasons why we picked Piyush ahead of Ashwin.”
Going by this reason, Dhoni has high opinions of Ashwin, and it is a matter of one, or two games at the most before he gets a look in. Of all people, Dhoni knows enough about Ashwin, having captained him for over three seasons in the IPL, and I believe him when he says that Ashwin has the mental strength to come in and perform straight away in a crucial game. Still, one must temper that with the knowledge that Ashwin is not Tahir or Murali, to come in and run through any line up. He is going to offer control, and let the other bowlers reap the rewards off his hard work.
This is why I fear the media hype. Right now, the experts would have you believe that Ashwin can single handedly improve the Indian bowling; but the truth is, he offers more when it comes to the Power Play and will keep the opposition batsmen honest. Chawla has gone for a lot of runs in the tournament so far, but compared to the resident spinner-in-chief, he was the most likely one to take wickets. The only spinner who has managed to find a balance between taking wickets and keeping the run rate down is the other Singh.
So, it is a tricky decision for Dhoni to make. While popular opinion swings towards Ashwin, one must realize that he can only do so much. Should Chawla play against South Africa and take a bucket load of wickets, it will change the whole dynamics again. For my penny’s worth, it wouldn’t hurt to try what South Africa did in their game against West Indies: play three specialist spinners and open the bowling with an offie (preferably, Ashwin)!