Warner in need of radical change in approach against Ashwin
Australia's batting currently stands on two strong pillars - Steven Smith and David Warner. Even though the pitches for the first two Tests were not batting-friendly, Smith has already managed to leave an indelible impression on the series. Warner, on the other hand, has looked good only in parts. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that his opening partner Matt Renshaw is a more valuable wicket if there is a lot in the pitch for the spinners. In these conditions, R Ashwin has had a wood on Warner, who has managed only 116 runs at an average of 23.20 against him and has already been dismissed five times. The stats for this series are even worse - 37 runs for three dismissals. The worrying bit is not Ashwin's domination over Warner, but the modes of dismissals as there is a clear pattern developing of him getting either bowled or lbw.
To harbour thoughts of succeeding against Ashwin on Indian pitches, one needs to have a fairly solid defensive game, a couple of shots to rotate the strike and a couple of go-to shots to collect boundaries. It is worth examining what Ashwin has tried to do and how Warner has responded.
Cramp him for room
If you were to look at the pitch maps and the beehives for Ashwin's deliveries to Warner in this series, you will find that, barring the first innings in Pune - the only one in the series in which Warner was not dismissed by Ashwin - there was nothing that pitched away from the off stump and offered any width. Since that first innings, Ashwin's plan against Warner has been quite evident. Whenever he went around the stumps, he pitched it either within the stumps or slightly outside off, but made sure that every ball finished no wider than the fourth stump. The moment he went over the stumps, he pitched everything outside leg. While the lines have changed a little, the length has been consistent - never short enough to allow Warner to play off the back foot.
Warner's short stature does not allow him to go forward enough to smother the spin, and his tendency to play besides the pad brings about his downfall often. That is why, after getting dismissed lbw in Pune, Warner started standing on the off stump to plant his front-foot outside the line of off, which worked to a certain extent. When Ashwin chose to bowl over the stumps, however, into the rough outside Warner's leg stump in the first innings, the batsman did not have a clue. Ideally, if the ball has pitched outside leg, one should avoid playing any defensive shot off the front-foot, as kicking is the best defensive option. But it was evident that Warner has not been exposed to that line too often, for he kept planting his front-foot outside leg to open up and defend with the bat. It was only a matter of time before he missed the line, which he did and was castled. Warner's defensive game has been susceptible against the ball turning away from him, and that allowed Ashwin to explore multiple options to dismiss him.
Rotation of strike
If you do not have enough faith in your defence, you must have at least a couple of single-taking shots that keep taking you to the other end. Warner has a fairly short front-foot stride, and the tendency to play inside the line to free up the arms (an asset in short-form cricket) does not allow him to reach the pitch of even the fuller deliveries. Ideally, he should be able to push the ball towards mid-off or mid-on/midwicket quite regularly because of the straight lines bowled at him, but since he is rarely on top of the ball, he fails to do that. The other option to rotate strike against Ashwin could be to play a range of sweeps (fine and square), not necessarily for boundaries but for singles. Unfortunately, he does not sweep with a lot of authority either. If you keep facing six balls of every over of Ashwin without complete command over the defensive shots, it is a matter of when, and not if, you will get out.
Last but not the least, to put pressure back on Ashwin, it is imperative to hit boundaries. Smith has a canny plan against Ashwin: he either sweeps or goes down the ground to 70% of the Ashwin deliveries he faces. But that is not the case with Warner. His boundary shots are either cuts or pulls, which work all right on hard and bouncy Australian pitches. But it is not easy to play horizontal bat shots on low and slow Indian pitches. Moreover, Ashwin has rarely bowled short enough for him to exercise these options. The other boundary option for Warner is using the feet to take the aerial route down the ground. But to go aerial, one must stay away from the pitch of the ball, and that is quite an improbable task against a ball turning away from you on a turning pitch. He does like to reverse-sweep and switch-hit, but it will take a lot of courage to use it as a regular scoring option before reaching small personal milestones.
If the pitches for the remaining two games behave similarly to the ones in Pune and Bengaluru, it will take some radical changes in Warner's approach to get the better of his nemesis.
Aakash Chopra is the author of three books, the latest of which is The Insider: Decoding the craft of cricket. @cricketaakash