CENTURION: The lone Test that Ravichandran Ashwin had played in South Africa before Saturday was in 2013. Having taken the lead spinner’s role in Johannesburg, he went wicketless, especially on a final day when a rare Test win was there for India’s taking. “It was kind of a hit on my professional pride,” he said on Saturday about that Test.
You know why. It was a performance that closed the door for Ashwin in the playing XI when India played abroad, as Ravindra Jadeja was preferred as a better defensive option. Here he was in Centurion, as Virat Kohli threw the ball to him after just about an hour into the day’s play. India’s pacers were getting no help whatsoever, given the lengths they were bowling. A lot now rested on how their premier off-spinner would go about in the middle. If he leaked runs, South Africa would run away with the game. But, the Ashwin of 2013 was long gone.
Coming in with the backdrop of outstanding performances at home over the last two years, his confidence was sky high. “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 for the country on Day 5, when all things were actually set up for a spinner. From there on, I knew I had to work on certain things. Obviously when you don’t take wickets, you don’t get bull-headed and believe that things will get better.
I am not made that way, at least,” elaborated Ashwin after the end of day’s play. “I worked on making my action to make it a lot more repeatable. I worked on my wrist position at time of release, and also added a few things to my repertoire. I used my wrist a lot more, and used my palm more while bowling flippers. Obviously, these things have combined over the last few years. I am just taking this confidence forward. By the end of this series, I will be a far better bowler than when I started.”
On Saturday, Ashwin could have easily slipped into that phase where he tries a lot when wickets are hard to come by. But he waited patiently, worked on different angles, switched sides, and kept batsmen guessing with “very little pockets to try”. Every now and then he got wickets — Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Quinton de Kock — which allowed him to again go on the attack against new batsmen. For once they were set, it was all about being patient, something he learned during his county stint with Worcestershire.
“I like to believe I was just dogged enough. I think my experience in England helped because this has been a sort of wicket which you get there. New Road was pretty flat. One ball jumps occasionally and then it goes flat for a long time. My first-class teammates would advice that I have to develop a lot of patience, and hearing those things from them was definitely a reality check. I have gone through a massive ride over the last eight months, and I am in a phase of life where I really want to enjoy my cricket.”