How Ashwin worked on his action to become India's premier match-winner

A spell of bowling in the nets in Adelaide in 2014 fixed a long-standing problem with his alignment

It's all in the body position: Ashwin bowling in Hyderabad 2012 (left) and Kanpur 2016

It's all in the body position: Ashwin bowling in Hyderabad 2012 (left) and Kanpur 2016 © AFP

Like all good stories, it took a spell of rejection to achieve redemption. At Adelaide Oval in December 2014, R Ashwin had been left out of India's XI for the seventh time in nine Test matches.

During the match, Ashwin worked with B Arun, India's bowling coach at the time, in the nets.

The source of Ashwin's troubles, Arun says in the cover story on R AshwinDecember cover story in the Cricket Monthly, was Ashwin's alignment at the crease, in his delivery stride.

"It is about the positioning of your body, from your back-foot impact to your front-foot impact. You're more likely to succeed if the alignment is towards the batter. Then you're perfectly balanced.

"If your alignments are right, I can bowl where I want: outside the off stump and turn, or I can turn it from the stumps.

"If your alignment is either towards leg slip, or it's falling away, then the body position changes. You tend to compensate when you deliver the ball towards the batsman, and you are most likely to deliver only one kind of delivery.

"You may bowl a few good balls but your consistency will come down, and also, you may tend to get a lot more tired."

While Ashwin had previously worked on fixing his alignment issues, he only found a lasting solution during those net sessions in Adelaide after Arun had identified the cause of the problem: the load-up, the way he sets up with his bowling and non-bowling arms prior to his delivery stride.

"A bowler has control only over two things - his run-up, and the way he loads," Arun says. "The rest, everything is reaction. Reaction gives you feedback as to what needs to be done, but most people tend to correct the reaction rather than the action. So you need to work backwards and see what exactly you need to address. Subtle things like how you load can determine where your foot lands."

With this insight, watching videos of Ashwin's action before and after Adelaide is illuminating.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Focus on his right hand during his pre-delivery jump. In the 2012 home series against England, it is above his right shoulder when he takes off, off his left foot. By the time he is at the top of his jump, it has wandered outwards - dipping behind his shoulder and then sweeping to the right until his arm forms an L by his side.

The sideways movement of his right hand and arm seems to influence a change in his body's momentum. He jumps at an angle to his run-up, to his right, and by the time he's in his delivery stride, the line between his back and front foot doesn't go down the pitch towards the batsman, but across to fine leg.

It forces him to pivot around a front leg that leans uncomfortably, and by the time he releases the ball, his right arm has gone beyond the vertical too. From the batsman's viewpoint, it is at 1 o'clock rather than 12. From that position, it seems near impossible for Ashwin to achieve any drift away from the right-hander.

When he finishes his action, his follow-through pulls him away towards cover rather than down the pitch.

In his new action, at the start of his pre-delivery jump, not much has changed: the right hand is still over his right shoulder. But now, instead of moving to his right, the hand stays close to his shoulder all the way through his jump, pulling backwards like a catapult before moving forward just as he lands on his back foot to begin his delivery stride.

Where the movement of his right arm used to disrupt his forward momentum, they are now in sync. His jump continues along the straight line of his run-up, ensuring an efficient transfer of momentum that carries on through his delivery stride, all of it driving towards the batsman. At release, the right arm is at 12 o'clock, as high as it can possibly be.

"If you are better balanced, you are in a better position to impart more spin, and also, the transfer of weight that takes place is very effective," Arun says. "It is towards the target, which is again the batsman. It's about being nippy, getting that extra bounce, and also spinning the ball."

With this new action, Ashwin is a transformed bowler. The numbers tell the story well enough: before Adelaide, he averaged 28.65 and had a strike rate of 59.10. Since Adelaide, up until the start of the series against England this year, he averaged 21.49 and takes a wicket every 43.7 balls.

This is an edited extract from the Cricket Monthly December cover story on R Ashwin