Lyon is renowned for his old-fashioned approach, which relies on overspin and dip to get the most out of bouncy Australian pitches, and a line wide of off stump to the right-hand batsmen. Ashwin, apart from bowling a wider array of deliveries, tends to bowl closer to the stumps, often with more sidespin, to exploit the natural variations of turn and bounce afforded by subcontinental surfaces.
Both approaches have brought rich reward. Lyon has 318 Test wickets at an average of 32.21, and Ashwin 336 at 25.44.
But in recent times, Ashwin has drawn criticism for not being able to bowl in the manner of Lyon on pitches away from home, particularly after the fourth Test of India’s tour of England, in Southampton. Ashwin, who was hampered by a groin strain, only managed three wickets in 51.5 overs across England’s two innings. England offspinner Moeen Ali, meanwhile, bagged nine wickets and the Player-of-the-Match award by flighting the ball and persistently landing it in the footmarks outside the right-handers’ off stump.
Speaking to the media after the third day of India’s tour game against a Cricket Australia XI at the SCG, Ashwin said bowling styles were a matter of biomechanics. He likened the idea of trying to bowl like Lyon to Ishant Sharma abandoning his natural hit-the-deck style and attempting to bowl like the South Africa seam bowler Vernon Philander.
“We both started our Test careers at the same time so obviously mutual admiration is there,” Ashwin said of Lyon. “I think he’s done really well over the last couple of years and he’s bowling really well, the ball’s coming out really well. What can I learn [from Lyon]? Probably just drop the ball in the right spots and probably as the series goes on look forward to a good competition.
“It’s going to be very hard to replicate one’s action. We are talking about actions and biomechanics here, and it’s quite silly when people say, oh, it’s overspin and sidespin and stuff like that. You’ve got to still stick to your strengths. You’re not going to ask Ishant Sharma to bowl like Philander, can you? It’s not going to happen.
“You’ve got to believe in your strengths. Something’s got me 350-odd wickets in my Test career, something’s got him 300-odd wickets in his career. It’s important to keep going the same way and learn a few things on the way.”
On a day of hard toil for the visitors at the SCG, Ashwin was India’s most economical bowler, picking up the wicket of the CA XI opener Max Bryant and ending the day with figures of 24-5-63-1.
“I thought the ball came out pretty well,” he said. “Haven’t played an international game for a while so it felt good the way it came out. Obviously the next 4-5 days I will prep up a bit more for the [first Test in Adelaide].”
Ashwin reckoned the pitches for the Test series were “always going to be flat”, and said the challenge for India’s bowling attack would be to keep themselves in the game, session after session.
“It’s more about trying to get your noses ahead in Australia, every hour, the game can get away from your hands really fast when you’re on the field,” he said. “Likewise, when we’re batting also, we’ve got some quality batsmen who can take the game away from them.
“So it’s very important to soak together good partnerships as a bowling group and then try and knock the wickets over. It’s not like you’re going to blow oppositions away. Yes, it might happen once in a while, but it’s very important to get our noses ahead and keep it ahead.”