INDIA TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA, 2018
Ravichandran Ashwin bowled 31 overs on Day 1 of the Centurion Test, and picked up three wickets © BCCI
Given that R Ashwin bowled only 49 deliveries in Cape Town, all South Africa flashbacks were temporarily placed on the back-burner. And then once the Centurion heat impeded preparation of a green top, Ashwin snapped right back into the equation, coming on to bowl as early as the 20th over of the innings. When he found turn and bounce, there must have been more than an odd sigh in remembrance of Johannesburg 2013.
Ashwin has come a long way since famously flat-lining in the fourth-innings of that career-turning game. Today, the fastest bowler to 300 Test wickets, now also enriched by a County stint with Worcestershire, was called up earlier than anticipated to help pull back an early advantage squandered. Previously, how he bowled outside Asia suggested a nagging lack of belief. Each delivery was ripped hard; an implicit attempt to validate that with his own off-breaks he had just as much to offer as the other spinner talked about replacing him away from home.
Today, however, was one of the most “relaxed days of his cricket career”, when Ashwin didn’t have to grapple with his own version of the imposter syndrome. “I wasn’t really thinking too much and delivering the ball. My only intent was to try and keep it in a particular spot. Try and deliver from different positions in the crease, I was really enjoying it,” Ashwin said after his three wickets on the day helped India claw back in the Centurion Test.
Ashwin was more instructive when having to describe his turnaround, which coincided with a carefully regimented change to his wrist position and the work on making his action more repeatable. “More than having to make changes from the 2013-14 tour, it was a reality check in terms of not being able to win a Test match for the country on day five when all things were actually set up for a spinner. It was a kind of hit on my professional pride and from there on I knew I had to work on certain things,” he said.
“Obviously, you don’t take wickets, you don’t get bull-headed and believe things will get better from next time. I am not made that way atleast. So I worked on making my action a lot more repeatable and I worked on the wrist position at time of release and also added a few things up my repertoire. Used my wrist a lot more when I bowl and used my palm more when I bowl the flipper, etc.. Obviously, these things have combined over the last few years, I have had a great time over the last 2-3 years. I am just taking the confidence forward and I am trying to get better as the day goes and by the end of this series, I will be a far better bowler than what I started,” Ashwin added.
With fast bowlers getting surprisingly little purchase in Centurion, Ashwin was forced into bowling long spells – 17 and 14 overs respectively – that allowed him to formulate different ideas on a track with slow spin. To the well-set Hashim Amla, he went around the wicket with a slip, short leg, leg-slip and short mid on. While the plan didn’t succeed straightaway, it sowed seeds of doubts in Amla, who was otherwise particularly severe against Moeen Ali during the last English summer. He did end up with the wickets of Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Quinton de Kock with a little help from his new reputation.
“I was just dogged enough. I think my experience of going to England and playing helped because this has been a sort of wicket which you get there especially where I played, at New Road, where it’s pretty flat. One ball jumps occasionally and goes flat for a pretty long time. My first-class team-mates would advice that I have to develop a lot of patience and hearing those things from them was definitely a reality check for me.
“I would actually like to believe I have gathered a lot more respect, at least I would like to believe so,” he said. “The thing is, as far as cricket is concerned, most cricketers just react to what happens. If you are bowling well obviously, the batsmen play you in a certain fashion. If it’s not coming out (well), they obviously go after you. It was one of those days where the ball came out really well. Yeah, I think, it does make a mark that you have got wickets against certain team and dismissed certain amount of batsmen in certain fashion. It plays on their minds and I am happy I have put that sort of scar in their minds and it’s probably helping me out.”
Ashwin’s figures of 3 for 90 may pale in front of many of his statistical feats. But it came on a day when India could have easily been batted out of the game. That it came when he could so easily have missed the Test on a green top added greater credence. “Two days from the game it looked like we are going to play an all-seam attack. And then when we walked into the ground yesterday, it was white in colour, the grass was coming off. All of a sudden, I really had to pull myself back and think ‘I am in the game now.’
“Today morning, when we came to the ground, it looked like a wicket that was really flat and had to have a spinner in the game. Personally, from my side of it, I was very happy that the grass was taken off, if not I think it would have been a all-seam attack. That’s the way it goes, right? I have seen a lot of cricket matches where people who haven’t been in contention to play the match, come in and get those wickets. So, this was one of those days.”