England are being urged to ignore the hype about Ravichandran Ashwin’s new ‘mystery ball’, and simply play the off-spinner on his merits.
Alastair Cook and his fellow batsmen could be forgiven perhaps for some uncertainty on reading headlines in India about Ashwin’s latest delivery, and his intention to unveil it in the forthcoming four-Test series, which starts on Thursday.
But they need only have a quick chat with their own spin wizard, slow-bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed, to conclude that they should not start fretting just yet.
Ashwin is already adept at his own version of the ‘carrom ball’, popularised by Sri Lanka’s Ajantha Mendis, to go with his orthodox finger-spin.
Asked about his new prototype delivery, the 26-year-old told the Times of India: “I have been working on that ball for some time now. I might just use it in this series.”
England, it seems, will not be suckered until the ball itself – as well as Ashwin – starts to talk.
Assistant coach Richard Halsall spent enough time on the Sussex staff with Pakistani leg-spinner Mushtaq to know some of the tricks of the trade are purely verbal.
“I was very fortunate to spend a few years with Mushtaq at Sussex, and Mushy would have a ‘mystery ball’ every week,” he said.
“He’d show it to the opposition in the nets - and as we’d wander off he’d say ‘that’s just my leg-spinner’.”
If Ashwin is not bluffing, however, England will be ready to adapt, too.
“If he has got a mystery ball, that’s fantastic for him – move cricket on, and all that,” added Halsall.
“But I’m sure our batsmen will watch him carefully and deal with each ball as it comes.”
It is well-chronicled already that England have been starved of useful match practice against frontline spin in their three warm-up fixtures here – a fact generally interpreted to be a tactic from on high in the India camp, to prevent the tourists becoming accustomed to the challenge they are about to face against Ashwin and slow left-armer Pragyan Ojha.
First-choice seam bowlers Steven Finn and Stuart Broad are hoping to recover in time from their respective thigh and heel injuries to play in Ahmedabad.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann is back in the camp after his 8,000-mile return trip in just a handful of days following his brief return home while his baby daughter was unwell.