Murugan Ashwin has arguably the most potent googly in contemporary Indian cricket. Spin legend Anil Kumble and coach of Kings XI Punjab, had a quick look at him and decided what he wanted from the 30-year-old Tamil Nadu bowler.
Kumble told Murugan, “There is a fair amount of venom in your googlies. And you spin it big. I want you to bowl more googlies, not just against the left-handers but right-handers too.”
Having Kumble as coach was a ‘blessing’ for Murugan. “He wanted me and Ravi Bishnoi, a leg-spinner who has come from under-19 ranks, to be attacking, be looking for wickets. Our role definition was very clear,” he said.
Before every match Kumble would have an interaction with Mururgan and Bishnoi, and the discussion would be specific to each ground, each pitch and each batsman. We had a plan in place for every batsman,” said Mururgan who picked up 10 wickets in nine matches at a creditable economy rate of 7.46.
He recalled one such occasion when the plan worked. Murugan bowled in the Powerplay overs against Sunrisers Hyderabad’s attacking Jonny Bairstow.
Murugan spun the ball without providing width to Bairstow.
The increasingly restless Bairstow began reverse sweeping without success. Murugan recalled: “The plan was to keep the ball close to him so that if he missed a sweep, he would be leg-before or bowled. Bairstow missed and the stumps were rearranged.”
‘Spin big and both ways’
Lending insight into his bowling, Murugan said. “I try to be quicker through the air and impart revs on the ball. I want the ball to spin big and spin both ways. Occasionally, I would flight the ball but those deliveries would be a little wider.”
Someone who uses the crease capably, Murugan’s googly spun more than anybody else in the IPL as research showed. And he turns his leg-breaks big.
Spin bowling is a lot about deception he says and does have a slight pause in his action, which enables him to spot the early movement of the batsman. And then he disguises his wrist position and the point of release. For instance, the difference between the wrist position for a googly and a top-spinner is only subtle. If the batsman fails to pick it, he could be walking back.
Murugan spoke about the spirit in the Kings XI camp and its stirring fightback to come from behind and almost make it to the play-offs. “We believed we were playing good cricket all through.”
Spinners mature late and Murugan’s best years could be ahead of him.