With the 2023 Border-Gavaskar Trophy around the corner, spin bowling will undoubtedly play a huge role throughout the four-match series starting from February 9 in Nagpur.
Former India head coach Ravi Shastri thinks if ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin gets going with both bat and ball, he could well decide the outcome of the series. At the same time, Shastri cautioned Ashwin about overthinking his plans while bowling to the Australian batters.
With Ashwin, who's picked 89 wickets against Australia in Tests apart from making 457 runs against them, looming as a large threat, the visitors' had been practising in Alur against Baroda off-spinner Mahesh Pithiya, who has an eerie resemblance to the bowling action of Ashwin.
Moreover, 226 out of 449 wickets taken by Ashwin in Test cricket are left-handed batters. "One thing you don't want for him is to over-plan. He is good enough doing what he is - sticking to that.
He is a really crucial player here. His form might well decide the series. Ashwin is a package not just with the ball, he will get you some important runs as well (with the bat)."
"If he is on fire in both departments, that might well decide the outcome of the series. He is world-class in most conditions. But in Indian conditions, he can be lethal. If the ball is spinning and biting the dust, he has enough up his sleeves to trouble the Australian batters."
"But you don't want him to over-think and try too many things because just keep it there and let the pitch do the rest as it does enough in India," said Shastri in a press conference organised by Star Sports, the official broadcaster of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
Asked if Australia batters are thinking a bit too much about Ashwin, former Australia captain Ian Chappell remarked it's better if the visitors themselves replied to this query and added that they have to be at their proactive best against the off-spinner.
"Why is Ashwin likely to be a threat, because he's a smart cricketer. Ashwin sees what's happening with the pitch, and the batsmen and bowls accordingly. If you are going to let Ashwin bowl the way he wants to, then you are in trouble.
He will be a threat to Australia throughout and you have to be proactive against Ravichandran Ashwin." "If you want to know how the Australian players are thinking about Ashwin, ask the Australian players.
I've got no idea what they are thinking about Ashwin. You've obviously got to think particularly about a good opponent like Ashwin, but you've got to think about being proactive."
"If you are not the one who is basically dictating terms -- that doesn't mean you are hitting him for fours and sixes. Sometimes, just getting regular singles off a bowler will frustrate him more than hitting him for four or six.
If you are getting singles on a regular basis, he's having to change who he bowls to." With Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja set to be the first two spin options for India, there is a fight for the third spinner's slot between Kuldeep Yadav and Axar Patel.
Shastri believes Kuldeep being a left-arm wrist-spinner gives him the edge over Axar, who is very similar in skillsets to Jadeja. "As far as the other spinner goes, I would like to see Kuldeep playing, straightaway.
You have got Ravindra Jadeja, Axar and him are pretty similar while Kuldeep is different. Also, if you lose the toss and want the ball to spin then. if there is anyone who can spin the ball on day one it will be Kuldeep."
"If the track has not too much to offer, he can come into play. Also, roughs will be created and that will come into play with the Australian and Indian pacers' bowling. A wrist spinner can bring out that bit further and get it to spin both ways.
He can take advantage and is crucial." India are the current holder of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, having won the last three series against Australia in 2017, 2018-19 and 2020-21.
Australia, on the other hand, are aiming to win a Test series in India after having done so last time in 2004.