"Dan Lawrence is someone who likes to using his feet a lot, we saw how he bats in Sri Lanka, he steps out a lot, he uses his feet, he goes deep back in his crease, and uses the off side holes." That was R Ashwin.
Lawrence is in the team because he can play spin. In County Cricket he plays it very well, averaging 50. Oddly, England hasn't sent him on many lions tours to Asia, but the thought is he's their best batting prospect against the slower bowlers.
Lawrence is from Essex, in the last ten years, his home ground of Chelmsford has had 25% of the deliveries bowled by spinners according to Amol Desai. They average 27 in that time, but the seamers average 26 there. 25% is higher than the normal rate for county cricket, where only 22% of the overs bowled there are spin according to CricViz. 25% would rank it the second least if it were an Indian ground.
Then you have to look at who Lawrence faces. Most English domestic spinners aren't of high quality. That isn't because England doesn't produce players who can bowl spin, but they don't have the pitches or spin culture to develop them. Plus, they're obsessed with spinners who can bat, which further weakens the quality. Lawrence was never tested against the best spinner in the county game, as Essex had Simon Harmer on their team. But that would have at least meant he faced an international quality spinner in the nets.
When he has faced a Test class spinner, Jack Leach, he's been dismissed four times by him in six matches. Three are Taunton - where spinners are used 40% of the time.
Over the entire history of first class cricket at MA Chidambaram Stadium, 58% of the balls are from spin.
We do not know how good Lawerence is against spin, not really. England has probably learned more about him in the last four Tests than they had in his entire career before. His 73 at Galle is his highest score, but he walked to the crease when England practically had a lead. That is his only score passing 50. This is very early in his career, he's faced only 389 balls.
We have learnt stuff, like that he will play this run down the wicket upright sweep flick shot against the spin. We also know that he'd prefer to drive. CricViz says he scores from spinners by driving 39% of the time. And he did that, too, including one big six.
But those were the great moments. There was also a two ball sequence he got a leading edge to the off side when trying to hit to leg. Then an inside edge through his legs when he was trying to hit through the offside. Two balls that went the opposite place to his intention. There was also the left leg dance, when he plays on the back foot, and ensures his front leg is nowhere near in the way for an LBW. I can see the logic, but it seems like he can't stay balanced.
There is a lot to like about Lawrence and spin, but there is also a lot. It seems like his spin batting has so many moving parts.
None of this is made easier because Lawrence is going up against Ashwin, who sees the game on a shaman level. There is a point in the careers of great spinners where their body can still produce the turn, and their mind is elevated from their experiences. Ashwin proved in Australia he was there, and now he's back home. Enhancing the powers.
Briefly, Ashwin was frustrated against Stokes, because he dismisses him so easily, and even with a spinning pitch, he wasn't getting him. And he switched to over the wicket. In Tests coming into this innings, Ashwin had delivered to Stokes over 450 times. About 50 of those were from over the wicket, for one dismissal. With eight dismissals from the 400 or so around.
And the reason was probably that the ball was spinning too much. Stokes was playing inside the line, and missing the ball by metres as it ragged square. He would have to play more from over the wicket, and if he missed one, he could be bowled. It also brought his carrom ball in more from an LBW shout. He tries this twice, but then he finds another way.
Above is the Hawkeye of the over to Stokes. The first ball you can ignore as it was to Root. Balls two and three start very wide of off stump, Stokes is comfortable against both of them and plays them from the back foot. Ball four is fuller and straighter, it's the ball looking for the outside edge. All three so far have spun. Ball five is an underspinner, and is supposed to be the one that attacks the stumps by going straight, but Ashwin is just a little short and gets it leg side, and Stokes makes an error in not hitting it to leg and getting off strike. The next ball is more or less the same ball, but Ashwin gets it a little fuller, a little straighter, and hits Stokes' inside edge. While the plan was probably for an LBW or bowled, it goes from that bat to pad and pops to slip. Had there been no edge, it would have missed leg stump.
Ashwin had a spinning wicket against his largest bunny, and he still looked for other methods. And eventually it was the straight ball that took the wicket. Stokes is furious. Perhaps because he's dismissed on this killer wicket by a simple ball.
If you want a better look inside the mind of Ashwin, how about this from my friend Gaurav.
That's some mega big brain shit. And it's what you need to do to be a world-class spinner. Either your stock ball needs to be near unplayable, or you need to be an evil genius. If you have a mix of both, good luck to all the batsmen.
And this is what Lawrence had to face. Not Leach at Ciderbad, but Ashwin at his lair.
At one point Virat Kohli was giggling at Dan Lawrence the way you do when you force a grandparent to play X-Box or watch a child work out sunglasses. This mismatch between Lawrence and Ashwin is stark before factoring in this wicket.
But first, let's go back to the first innings. Ashwin was about to deliver one last time before lunch, and he pulled out of the crease. It looked clearly like he was trying to get into Lawrence's mind for a moment. But then he followed up with one of his slowest balls of the match, Lawrence got forward, the ball bounced and turned, and was caught at short leg.
Second innings wasn't much better for Lawrence. He had survived the previous night and even attacked Ashwin when he felt the need. But Ashwin had said something to him as they went off the field. Joe Root got involved as well. Then Kohli surprisingly opts for Siraj in the morning over Ashwin.
So Ashwin gets to watch him. So what do we know so far, Ashwin has a map on Lawrence's methods, he's as forensic with him as he would be for Stokes. After the first innings he probably suspects that he can get in his head a little bit. The previous night he knows that - whatever the altercation was - Lawrence will want to continue to be aggressive to him. Oh, and that big six mentioned earlier, that was against Ashwin after he ran down the wicket. Then in the over before Ashwin comes on, Lawrence leaves the crease a touch early and Axar Patel almost slips one down the leg side for a stumping.
I don't know how big brain Ashwin's big brain is, but on talkSPORT we talked about the CricViz numbers of the fact he had come down the wicket five times on the first ball of the over to spinners, more than any other ball in an over. "It's an Essex thing," is how Gareth Batty explained it, "They like to run down in the first two balls to put pressure on you". Now it's not like he doesn't run down at later over deliveries, but could Ashwin have been told this, or worse still, worked it out on his own.
It was Ashwin's first ball of the day. He really should have been looking to just hit the spot and start his work. And maybe he was, but when he saw Lawrence twitch he fired it in. But it appeared like he was either ready for it or knew it was a possible chance. That's because he is at the top of his game, has thought about it, is paying attention, and so in control of what he does.
Now here is the mad thing, like the Stokes' ball, it wasn't perfect. It allowed Lawrence to get his pad out as it was probably too straight. But Lawrence misses it, and Ashwin starts his day with a wicket that really crushes England. England's only other hope was a long partnership with Root and Stokes with a soft ball. And he ended that too.
Ashwin has two wickets with nonspinning deliveries on a pitch where Root gets some glove on a ball that went vertical. After play Root described that match as "A great education for our batters". Think about this, the entire English set up has been on top of this series for a while. They have horses for courses in bowling, batting and keeping. They have an analytics wing and played in Sri Lanka to get themselves into a groove.
And then Ashwin out bats, bowls and thinks them.
Welcome to Ashwin's Academy, England.