What India expected from Rishabh Pant, Ashwin delivers – an attacking cameo

Not many tinker with the batting technique and set-up as much as he has done over the years. A flip-book of him at the crease will throw up so much variety that it can bewilder: the bat tapping the ground, held high in the air and parallel to ground.

That’s just the bat. The knee also has been contorted in various degrees over the years. It flexes up and down at the crease, it has stayed a bit firmer, upright. The upper body too has had its variations. Upright, crouching, mid-way.

So does the hands. He can rock and cradle that bat back and forth at crease as he does these days. The elbow too can be crooked up, like now, ala Imran Khan. The angle of his posture too; it’s been mostly side-on but he has also tried the open-stance.

Clearly, he is someone who loves to bat; after all as a kid, batting was his first love not just in the gully cricket but even in competitive cricket till an injury opened the door to the world of offspin.
The overthinking, as tabled above, can be quite amusing and interesting to watch. Not easy for a batsman to keep tinkering like this. In the past, through a series, he has had a different set-up according to the conditions and the pitches.

Sometime in the last 18 months or so, it dawned on him that he should stop fussing too much. Ajinkya Rahane helped with some straight talk.

“A lot of my batting was about me internally thinking about what was happening with the crease, the set-up, the technique and all that sort of stuff. Whereas my batting was more about hands, getting through the ball and sort of thinking tactically rather than thinking technically,” Ashwin said last February.

In an interview with Cricbuzz couple of years back, he had talked about how he had grown too “defensive” in his mindset while batting. (File)

“Ajinkya [Rahane] played a crucial role in terms of telling me that I’m overthinking it and have to just get it done. All those things played a massive role but that innings Sydney really set the tone for me,” he had added.

That innings is part of cricketing folklore already. The battle with the body, the battle with the Aussies, the intense focus to even conceive that one could defend on for hours, and the discipline for an usually innovative batsman to curb all those urges was quite something.

This one at Johannesburg was far easier in composition. Not in execution as there weren’t many runs from top order batsmen, the pitch threw up awkward variable bounce but in terms of mental discipline. It was clear that an attacking cameo was the way to go and he didn’t waste any time doing it.

He drove the on-the-up, punched over the infield but in the V, and drove at every opportunity. The bat cradled in his hands at crease, the elbow stayed crooked up, and the bat swing was supremely fluid. He is one of the best timers in this Indian team.

Unsurprisingly, South Africans tried to bounce him out. Always a done thing with him and always worth a try. His hip swivel can be a bit slower at times, and he can lap-pull it in the air. He has also found it difficult to sway or duck and more often than not tries to put bat to the short ball. That’s why in Sydney, he correctly decided the risk-percentage wasn’t on his side and took body blows.

That’s how it has played out for the last year. Not just in Australia but then he came back and starred with a ton at his hometown Chennai against England. Tactically, he is very astute: he knows when to attack, when to defend. He identifies the right pace of batting better than many.

And that’s why his over-thinking frustrated him in the past. “My batting was more about hands”. He had veered away from that realisation and couldn’t produce scores consistently. In an interview with Cricbuzz couple of years back, he had talked about how he had grown too “defensive” in his mindset while batting. And intended to sort that out by trusting his instinct. And the wonderful batting hands.

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