Ashwin delivers brilliant opening act

Exactly four years ago, R Ashwin had been left dejected if not heart-broken when rookie Karn Sharma was handed a Test debut ahead of him at the Adelaide Oval.

The leg-spinner took four wickets while conceding almost 60 runs for each of those scalps. On the other hand, Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon grabbed 12 wickets for the match, seven of them coming in the second innings, as India lost their last eight wickets for 73 runs to suffer a 48-run loss. The match is remembered as much for then stand-in skipper Virat Kohli’s twin centuries as for Ashwin’s incomprehensible omission.

Ashwin, on more than one occasion, has made his disappointment clear about not getting to play on the best pitch for spinners in the four-Test series. There was, however, no way he was going to be ignored this time, and the off-spinner showed why his non-inclusion in the 2014 Test was a blunder. On a muggy Friday, with Australia chugging along slowly and seemingly in little trouble, Ashwin, coming in to bowl after an hour into the first session, picked up three wickets for 38 runs in an uninterrupted 22-over spell till tea to bring India back into the game.

The 31-year-old accomplished the twin jobs on the day -- keeping the batsmen quiet which was crucial given India’s modest total of 250 and secondly, providing breakthroughs. Once the Kookaburra ball got softer, the batsmen found it relatively easier to negotiate him, but his second day’s show holds a lot of promise for the second dig. Ashwin’s efforts were particularly impressive given the fact there was not much to exploit from the pitch when the left-handers were batting. All the footmarks were for the right-handers to whom he didn’t bowl much.

“Look, actually there is a footmark for the right-handers from where there is a lot of help and the odd ball is spinning,” said Ashwin who dismissed Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh – all left-handers.

“There are ones that are going straight. I haven’t bowled much to the right-handers in this game but when (Pat) Cummins was playing, one went through the gate; there is a lot of action happening for the right-handers but there isn’t much happening for the left-handers for an offie. But it is not easy to make the shots when you get the pace right and there is a bit of hold because of thickness of the grass,” he reasoned.

With only a hint of turn on a drop-in pitch, Ashwin had to rely on mixing up deliveries and varying his speeds. He gave a lot of air to the ball, got it to drift, turn and bounce occasionally. Ashwin felt the pitch had slowed down compared to how it was on the opening day, and he doesn’t expect it to quicken up more.

“Obviously if I wasn’t happy with today’s spell, I won’t be happy with many other days,” said Ashwin when asked if he was happy with his performance on the day. “Look, to be very precise there is not a lot happening off the straight or (the ball is) fizzing through, nothing like that. I was getting drift both ways, in and out, and I was able to control both that drift and get the batsmen holding their feet inside the stump and outside the stump and hence hold them. That’s how we got Khawaja out and Marsh out as well. That’s something that really worked in my favour today because of the drift, the ball going away and coming back in,” he analysed.

While stroke-making is obviously difficult on the pitch, it isn’t menacing either which is why wickets weren’t falling in a clutch. The Indians, however, would be happy with the way they contained the Australian batsmen, restricting them to 191/7 from 88 overs – a mere 2.10 runs per over. It had remained less than two for a long while before Travis Head (61 n.o.) improved it.

“That was one of the reasons why I was bowling an extended 22-over spell even before and after tea to make sure that we don’t give away more runs,” Ashwin said when pointed out about India’s miserly bowling. “I see it as neck and neck in the game. Whoever can get momentum from here on, obviously has the edge in this Test match. So, I think it is extremely well-poised. Every run is going to be gold dust from here,” he remarked.

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Ashwin delivers brilliant opening act

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