“Ashwin has got the job done in the first innings and will certainly have a golden chance to steer his side to a commanding position in the second innings, provided Indian batsmen get the required runs”.
An offspinner bowled almost 39 overs in the first innings of a Test match in South Africa and bagged four wickets with his wily off-spin. Yes, it happened in South Africa, which is widely reckoned to assist seam bowlers with some pace and bounce. On a pitch, that was conducive for batting, Ashwin bowled marathon spells and kept the South African batsmen under check.
Ashwin was unstoppable in the recently concluded home season, where he wreaked havoc at will. He meant business and won games for India single-handedly. Coming to South Africa, there was pressure on him. The pressure to deliver, the pressure of replicating the similar magical performance on an alien land, the pressure of providing crucial break-throughs, most importantly, the pressure to overcome the nightmare of 2013 tour. In the ongoing Test at Centurion, he lived up to the expectations.
In South Africa, it was pretty much understood, only one spinner will make the cut and there was hardly any doubt regarding Ashwin being the sole tweaker. He has been the leader of this Indian spin attack, but South Africa was always going to be a task. At Cape Town, it was all about seamers; the ball did all the talking and movement. Ashwin did chip in with a couple of wickets. He cleaned up the tail and did what was expected out of him in seven overs.
A few years back, it was South Africa, where Ashwin faced a terrible time, failing to chip a single wicket on the final day of a Test in Johannesburg. He remained wicketless in 36 overs as South Africa drew the game while chasing 458. This was a huge failure for Ashwin and he did emphasise on this at the end of Day 1.
Ashwin responds to the faith invested in him
It requires a lot to get over such a huge mental barrier. Ashwin hasn’t played a lot of Test cricket in South Africa and certainly has some terrible memories to get over. “The one thing I have comfortably done is conveniently forget the history of South Africa. I am well over it and I want to put it behind me and stride ahead forward,” Ashwin said in the post-match press conference.
At Centurion, Ashwin bowled 31 overs on the first day of the Test, picking three big wickets. South Africa won the toss and opted to bat first. Conditions were good enough for batting and India didn’t have Bhuvneshwar Kumar to begin with, who made South African top-order look like sitting ducks with the new ball at Cape Town.
Markram and Elgar looked solid and denied Indian seamers any opportunity to get the better of them. India were in a desperate need of a wicket when Ashwin removed Elgar for 31 and drew the first blood. Later, he also got the better of Markram on 94 and denied him a century. Both the openers were undone and Ashwin delivered when his side needed the most.
Hashim Amla was found short of his ground due to some incredible athleticism by Hardik Pandya, which brought Quinton de Kock to the crease. One wouldn’t be wrong in saying that this was the kind of a track, where De Kock would have turned the tide in South Africa’s favour with a brisk knock. But it wasn’t to be. De Kock was handed a golden duck as he nicked one straight to Kohli at first slip off Ashwin. India ended Day 1 on a high, South Africa were delicately placed at 269 for 6 and Ashwin did well to have three wickets under his belt.
Technical modifications of Ashwin’s bowling
Ashwin also spoke about his action and technical skills he worked on. “I worked on making my action a lot more repeatable. I worked on the wrist position at the time of release and also added a few things up my repertoire. I used my wrist a lot more when I delivered the ball and used my palm more when I bowl the floater. Obviously, these things have combined over the last few years, and I have had a great time over the last two-three years. I am just taking the confidence forward and I am trying to get better as the day goes, and probably by the end of this series I will be a far better bowler than what I started,” Ashwin added.
On Day 2, he was unfortunate to not have the wicket of Kagiso Rabada to his name. The southpaw was dropped on two consecutive deliveries by Kohli and Pandya respectively. Ashwin didn’t bowl a single bad delivery, he was dead right with his line and length, further not providing any room for error. He hit the good length consistently.
Faf du Plessis tried to attack him and ensured the tail was not exposed to the series of web spun by Ashwin. The off-spinner was capable of cleaning the South African tail and Du Plessis was well aware of it. Eventually, Ashwin picked his fourth wicket in the form of Morne Morkel as South Africa were cleaned up for 335. This was easily one of the best performances by Ashwin overseas. He bowled with sheer discipline and astuteness. India now stand a good chance to get close to South Africa’s total or even overhaul it.
Ashwin has got the job done in the first innings and will certainly have a golden chance to steer his side to a commanding position in the second innings, provided Indian batsmen get the required runs. Ashwin has shown immense signs of improvement and adapted to the conditions quite beautifully so far, which is also a trademark of a champion bowler. India will be hoping him to continue his prolific form and weave magic with the red cherry in the rest of the series.