Inside out | R Ashwin defeats pink-ball history, avenges Steve Smith's dominance on him

Mayank Kumar

Mayank Kumar

Author| Dec 18, 12:43 PM

Image: Twitter
Image: Twitter

There was a chorus of discussion on what was to be the composition of the Indian bowling attack for the day-night Test in Adelaide and a school of thought was that the tourists might field an all-pace attack and leave out Ravichandran Ashwin, their premier spinner in terms of numbers. 

The argument in favour of Ashwin's exclusion was not far-fetched as Kohli has a fascination with playing pace bowlers and matching fire with fire against the opposition (remember Johannesburg 2018). The amount of help the pacers were expected to extract out of the pitch under lights was another reason for choosing an all-pace attack.

The stats too were stacked against Ashwin’s chances of playing in Adelaide as no spinner, other than Nathan Lyon, has been able to crack the pink-ball code as of yet. In the last day-night Test in Australia, between the home team and Pakistan, arguably the best spinner in the world, Yasir Shah got a massive hammering at the hands of Australian batsmen in Brisbane.

In the end, Kohli and the team management stuck with the process of selection they have been following in the last few Test series after attaining an all-round bowling attack that can bring the team into the game on any type of pitch and under any circumstances. The kind of help Lyon was getting off the day 1 pitch and the amount of trouble he caused to the Indian right-handers had vindicated the call Kohli took on playing Ashwin and resisting the fascinating temptation of unleashing four quicks with the pink ball against the hosts.

The pitch has something for the spinners, not a lot, but Lyon was wise enough to extract enough help to keep the Indian middle order that included the likes of Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, and Ajinkya Rahane, checked through his spells and it set a template for Ashwin.

The battle between Lyon and Ashwin on who is the best off-spinner in the world gets contentious with every series that India and Australia play against each other and the fact that the Australian finger spinner has been the only one to taste success with the pink ball would have made Ashwin hungrier to stamp his authority with the pink Kookaburra ball.

After a period of half an hour, Indian pacers got back their lengths to trouble the top order and brought Steve Smith to the middle. When Kohli first introduced Ashwin after the dinner break, the challenge was ominous for the tourists and more so for Ashwin who has had to see and swallow Steve Smith flourishing with the bat on numerous occasions and a lot of times at his expense. Ashwin had seen Smith dominating him and his teammates on a minefield in Pune in 2017 while the 2014-15 series must have been unforgettable for him as a bowler who struggled to go past Smith’s brilliance.

Ashwin was brought in to the attack in the 27th over and by that time, Steve Smith had played 26 balls without any trouble whatsoever. He was taking his time and it seemed as if he was meditating on yet another big one against his favourite opponent. 

Ashwin could bowl to Smith only from the fourth ball of his first over and he started with a couple of flighted off-spinners that did not turn that much but there was a definite sense of effort to flight the ball from Ashwin and to no one’s surprise, Smith looked up for the challenge. It was not to be as Ashwin played his next card very intelligently and to everyone’s surprise, Smith could not quite make out the intention of the Indian off-spinner when he lowered the trajectory of his third ball to the right-hander. 

Smith played back for a hint of spin that he faced on the last two balls. But Ashwin’s attempts to bowl the one delivery that went straight on landed perfectly on the off stump line to take Smith’s outside edge. An ecstatic Ashwin ran in a manner similar to Lasith Malina's run after dismissing Sachin Tendulkar in the Final of the 2011 World Cup and by it , symbolised the value he had put on Smith’s wicket. The fact that he could win the first round of a long-anticipated battle in the very first over before Smith could harm India made the success even sweeter for the wily off-spinner.

The next man in, Travis Head, provided him yet another opportunity of getting things completely under control. Head was worried about getting his pads caught in the line of the stumps and hence Ashwin could not afford to bowl outside the line of off stump as it could not have induced any stroke from the left-hander. The battle between him and Head could not last more than 10 balls as Ashwin was smart enough to use all the drift he was getting, bowling round the wicket, and pitched one on the middle stump. 

Head sensed an opportunity of scoring through the vacant leg side and the drift on the ball made that shot a tempting one. But actually, it ended up straightening on him and Ashwin was waiting for that mistake to plug a safe catch in his follow-through, to peg back the Australian middle order as the match came back in the balance.

Cameron Green, who was making his debut in this Test, was tested by Ashwin as another duel did not last too long. Green was beaten in flight when he wanted to come down the track to have a go and he was also caught on the wrong foot when he tried to combat the short of length balls coming into him. The right-hander looked fidgety at the crease and in the process, tried to manufacture an aggressive shot and perished against a ball that was not short enough to be pulled over midwicket.

Ashwin also showed his longevity on the day when every little thing mattered for the Indian side. He bowled, unchanged, from one end in the period from the diner break to the tea time. His spell at the end of the second session read 11-3-27-3. At the end of the day’s play, Ashwin proved to be a match-winner who didn’t only chip in with the control by checking the flow of runs--a role that all spinners coming from the subcontinent are imposed with - but also provided his captain with another wicket-taking option and championed the role by breaking the backbone of the Australian batting line up in a span of a couple of hours.

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  • Ravichandran Ashwin
  • Steve Smith
  • Travis Head
  • Cameron Green
  • Virat Kohli

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