Ashwin turns full circle in SA conditions
An Indian spinner dominating on day one of a Test on the Highveld is a rare thing. When that spinner is Ravichandran Ashwin, whose last Test in these parts ended in selfdoubt and being dropped, it is a case of cricket going full circle.
On a topsy-turvy first day of the second Test at Centurion, it was Ashwin who starred for the tourists, as South Africa limped badly to the close, ending on 269 for six.
“The one thing I have comfortably done is conveniently forget the history about South Africa,” Ashwin said of his last trip here.
“I am well over it and I want to put it behind me and stride ahead forward.”
Of course, history doesn’t forget, and it is often used as a barometer for progress. On the evidence of yesterday at Centurion, Ashwin has exorcised the demons of The Wanderers, no doubt helped by the dominance he had over South Africa when they went to India in 2015.
“I think I have won that respect from them, with how I have done against them since that last trip. I also think that cricketers react to the situation, and they play me differently now because I have had some success against several of their batsmen,” he pointed out.
Ashwin’s figures of three for
90 in 31 probing overs spoke of a confidence, and an appreciation of what he had to do on South African tracks.
“The 2013-14 tour 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 ctually set up for a spinner,” he said of his previously chastening experience.
Ashwin is a proud bowler, and the helplessness he suffered that day hurt him deeply. He went to county cricket, and worked tirelessly on learning to bowl well in conditions that didn’t offer assistance.
“It was kind of hit on my professional pride and from there on I knew I had to work on certain things,” he explained.
Where he was a casualty in 2014, he was a catalyst in 2018. He spun it, bounced it, looped it and toyed with all of South Africa’s batsmen, revelling in a pitch that played into his hands more than anyone could have anticipated.
The Proteas, through Aiden Markram, praised the off-spinner.
“We didn’t expect there to be so much assistance for him. He was difficult to face, he is difficult to face on a flat wicket as well, so it did work out well for him I suppose,” Markram conceded.
“He still had to bowl well, so you need to give him some credit. It will be interesting to see if the pitch will get harder and if it will continue to spin like it did, or if it spun like that because of the grass covering. We’ll see in the next couple of days,” he added.
Markram did reveal that there was a quiet word from Virat Kohli, as the Proteas’ opener left the field after making 94.
“He came across and said, ‘Well played, you were unlucky to get out.’ It was a great touch from him. He is a massive competitor as everyone sees on TV, but it’s great to see he has got good values that people off the field might not see. It was a great gesture and it meant a lot.”
PLAYS OF THE DAY
AMLA STANDS TALL
After a pair of very poor dismissals in Cape Town, Amla was able to get himself a start here. He offered chances on 14 and 30 but some elegant strokes allowed him to get on top of Ashwin, while his defence after the misses was secure. SuperSport Park is one of Amla’s favourite venues – he averages over 80 here – with five centuries including one double. Du Plessis and Pandya may have cost him a sixth hundred.
Two proved costly for India; Pandya’s diving one to his left at short midwicket when Amla had 14 was hard, Parthiv Patel’s down leg side off Ishant Sharma wasn’t. There were a few raised eyebrows about Patel’s inclusion as Saha, who claimed the Indian record for most dismissals in a Test last week, was thought to be in fine fettle. He hurt his hamstring, most likely in the warm-ups.
Turn is the one element South African skipper Faf du Plessis does not want to see and especially on day one of a home Test. But Ashwin was getting it to spin and bounce in the first session yesterday. The SuperSport Park groundsman Bryan Bloy had been concerned the surface might be too dry, given the recent heatwave. There’s still brown grass on the surface, and that will hopefully hold the pitch together.
Are we watching the beginnings of the career of another star allrounder? Hardik Pandya has already given us a taste of his adventurous talent at Newlands with both bat and ball. Yesterday he produced a stunning run-out that turned the entire day – and possibly the match on its head. It was a poor call by Faf du Plessis sure, but Pandya’s lightning reactions, in his follow-through, the pick-up, turn and throw to knock back the stumps with Amla short of his ground was magnificent.
That induced a collapse of 3 for 5 in 13 balls. This is a cricketer that demands attention regardless of what he’s doing in the game.