India vs South Africa 1st Test: R Ashwin celebrates a special number
A keen student of the game, Ravichandran Ashwin is a lot more about angles, variations and getting into the mind of the batsman. Numbers may elicit that broad grin, but the off-spinner is always about chiselling away at his game, regardless of the highs and lows of his career. The seven-wicket haul in the South Africa first innings thus was vindication of his skill on a slow pitch where the rest of the bowlers found the going not so easy. There was pent up frustration as he was benched in the previous series in the West Indies and in Tests from the start of 2018 that the spinner had every reason to feel he should have played.
Still, Ashwin was over the moon when the special moment and number arrived on Sunday as the Proteas fought to save the match on the fifth morning of the Visakhapatnam Test. Theunis de Bruyn, the South Africa No.3, saw an opportunity to play positively when Ashwin tossed it up outside off-stump.
But the seasoned bowler had given it a rip and de Bruyn’s attempted cut only got an edge as the off-break homed in, breaking the stumps. The batting slide had started, in the very second over of the morning.
But this wasn’t any wicket; it was Test scalp No. 350 for Ashwin. Playing in his 66th Test, he had joined Sri Lankan spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan as the joint fastest to the landmark. The spinner’s roar captured how he felt.
It isn’t everyday that one gets to rub shoulders with the world’s highest Test wicket-taker. While Muralitharan took only 106 innings compared to Ashwin’s 124, the Indian spinner took seven years and 332 days since debut, almost two years faster than Murali took to reach the milestone. And he bowled 500 fewer overs.
Only Anil Kumble (619), Kapil Dev (434) and Harbhajan Singh (417) are ahead of Ashwin in the list of highest Indian Test wicket-takers.
Ashwin explained in a Star Sports show how he prepares for any series. He demonstrated the areas where he bowled to draw the batsmen out of their comfort zone. He said he didn’t just watch videos and scour the statistics to know how each batsman tackled off-spin coming into every series, but even listened to media comments before games to get a clue of how the opposition was preparing.
A great example of this meticulous preparation came early in last year’s Test series in England where Ashwin bowled Alastair Cook in both the innings in the first Test at Edgbaston. On both occasions, the retiring great was drawn into deliveries that were floated on a middle-stump line, but beat the outside edge to hit off-stump.
Mohammed Shami, who captured five wickets in the South Africa second innings, hailed Ashwin and his spin partner Ravindra Jadeja, who took four wickets on Sunday.
“Ashwin has a lot of Test cricket experience, and bowled very well in both the first and second innings,” he told the official broadcaster after the match. “When you have great bowlers like Ashwin and Jadeja in the team, the fast bowlers can breathe easy and relax, knowing that they are there.”