Ashwin the firefighter comes up with crucial fifer
VISAKHAPATNAM : In January, head coach Ravi Shastri didn’t even name R Ashwin as an automatic pick if they were to go overseas with just one spinner. Ahead of the Tests in Caribbean, Harbhajan Singh said Ashwin wasn’t India’s go-to-man any more. On the eve of the first Test against South Africa, captain Virat Kohli was asked if Ashwin would be his first choice, now that they are playing at home. There wasn’t a clear affirmative; only an acknowledgement that he’ll start alongside Ravindra Jadeja.
Ashwin’s ears are oblivious to all of this.
This is his first Test since last December. For someone who has bagged fifers for fun, he came to Visakhapatnam without one for more than two years. But on Friday at YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Stadium, Ashwin showed why it is hard to ignore him for long. A fifer that quelled a spirited Proteas fightback definitely counts as a game-changer.
“To stay away from cricket is very tough for me. I played whatever games I got. I made an opportunity for myself to go and play some County cricket. I tried and played the TNPL as much as I could, also some league cricket in Chennai. It was very important for me to tick those off, because that is essentially where I come from. Going back and playing there is probably the best thing that could have happened for me.”
In those dull months, Ashwin focussed on himself. He decided against watching matches on television. He read a lot, and devoted more time to his family. Going by what he did on Friday, all of this seems to have helped him enjoy the game more.The pitch wasn’t easy to bowl on. There was grip and turn, but those were more at fuller lengths; redundant for spinners. There wasn’t much happening at good length. Dean Elgar, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock were using their feet, disrupting his rhythm. But Ashwin wasn’t relenting. He kept him probing the South Africa skipper around the off-stump channel, without the luxury of a cover fielder.
Du Plessis — who found fluency straight up — wasn’t afraid of dancing down and lofting him. Ashwin pushed mid-on back. Short-leg went behind the batsman’s line of sight. A leg-slip came in.
With no fielders close in front, Du Plessis’ blocks started happening with hard hands. Then came the sucker punch. A slower one. Du Plessis pushed hard. Leg-slip gobbled up the edge. The small breather they got had Ashwin written all over it.
De Kock was still looking unstoppable, using his feet and taking the rough out of equation. India dialled A for Ashwin again. Two spun past the southpaw’s edge. The third didn’t; an arm ball. De Kock’s defence was broken. Another breather. All Vernon Philander could do was delay the inevitable by nine balls. Then Ashwin had his five, as famous as they get.“I thought he (Du Plessis) was a bit lucky to get away with a few sweeps even before lunch. But it was more about controlling the game than plotting a dismissal.”
Going by how Friday went, India will need a lot more of this “control” in the days to come.