Ashwin joins elite club

First Indian off-spinner to bag five wickets on debut

In all, only six previous Indian bowlers had taken five or more wickets in an innings on debut – leggie Narendra Hirwani picked up five wickets in each innings – and Ashwin’s match figures of nine for 128 are the second best by an Indian debutant, after Hirwani’s 16 for 136 against the West Indies in Chennai in 1988.

As much as Ashwin might deny it, he would have felt at least a little bit of pressure going into this game. For starters, it was his first flirtation with Test cricket; for another, he was filling the giant shoes of 98-Test, 400-wicket veteran Harbhajan Singh, even if the man from Punjab has not been in the best form lately. None of that pressure manifested itself in his bowling – not on the first day, and not certainly on Tuesday’s day three, when he finished with remarkable figures of six for 47.

Pragyan Ojha, who himself had taken six wickets in the first innings, was again expected to be the lead spinner, but after two exploratory overs from the left-arm spinner at the start of the day, Mahendra Singh Dhoni immediately turned to his Chennai Super Kings mate. And Ashwin didn’t disappoint, bowling quite beautifully and bringing all his variations into play because the need of the hour was wickets, and quickly.

The over-experimentation that was on view on Saturday might not have been what the doctor ordered, but the bag of tricks he unfurled on Tuesday was just what India needed. He has the fizzy top-spinner delivered cross-seam that bursts through and bounces that bit more on pitching, a forefinger-flicked off-break that turns less than the conventional ripping off-break that can turn generously. And, he has the carrom ball made famous by Ajantha Mendis, flicked with the middle finger that turns away from the right-hander.

It was one such delivery that accounted for Marlon Samuels, who looked completely perplexed. One of the better players of spin in the Caribbean ranks, the 30-year-old was set up by two off-breaks, which was followed by the one that went the other way, leaving him totally shell-shocked as the off-peg was bent back. It was a special delivery with a very good batsman’s name on it, and Ashwin’s celebrations showed just what that dismissal meant to him.

Life in the rarefied zone will only become more difficult for the young man who has given himself an early wedding gift — he is slated to tie the knot on Sunday. For now, though, he can put his feet up and reflect on a job well done.


Dazzling debuts

Indian bowlers who have taken five wickets or more in an innings on debut.

 Narendra Hirwani: 8/61 vs West Indies in Chennai (Jan 11, 1988)
 N Hirwani: 8/75 vs West Indies in Chennai (Jan 11, 1988)
 R Ashwin: 6/47 vs West Indies in New Delhi (Nov 8, 2011)
Syed Abid Ali: 6/55 vs Australia in Adelaide (Dec 23, 1967)
 Dilip Doshi: 6/103 vs Australia in Chennai (Sept 11, 1979)
 VV Kumar: 5/64 vs Pakistan in New Delhi (Feb 8, 1961)
 Amit Mishra: 5/71 vs Australia in Mohali (Oct 17, 2008)
 Mohammad Nissar: 5/93 vs England at Lord’s (Jun 25, 1932).

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