Spinning the same record in Ranchi

India desperately needed a wicket and Ashwin had to step up.
Ravichandran Ashwin notched up his 35th Test fifer on Sunday, Feb 25, 2024, in Ranchi.
Ravichandran Ashwin notched up his 35th Test fifer on Sunday, Feb 25, 2024, in Ranchi. | AFP

RANCHI: R ASHWIN was staring at a giant screen in JSCA International Stadium on Sunday afternoon again — just as he was 24 hours earlier. This time, however, he was not batting. He, surrounded by his teammates, and Joe Root were anxiously looking at the screen.

At this point, Ashwin had already grabbed, literally, the new ball from Rohit Sharma, and made an immediate impact, sending both Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope back. Zak Crawley and Root had piled on for a while with the lack of bounce on the surface and Indian spinners being rather generous bowling too many half-volleys. From 19/2, the visitors had taken their score to 65/2, extending the lead past 100.

India desperately needed a wicket and Ashwin had to step up. He had taken just one wicket in the first innings, and had realised the need to “rewire”. For the kind of spinner he is, Ashwin found it difficult to extract spin on the surface. In fact, his load-up was different from what he did in the first innings and had to use a bit of variations. He was bowling with the seam facing square leg, even undercutting a little to extract more side spin of the surface.

“I am someone who comes from the top and likes the ball to drop on the pitch. Somehow when I come to the Eastern part of the country I find that there is not enough bite out of the surface. The bounce is literally around shin height if I can say that, so had to bowl a lot of side spin, had to hammer into the pitch for the first part of the spell and later from the other side I felt there was a little bit more purchase. Had to rewire and it’s a mental switch I had to make,” he would later explain in a chat with the broadcasters.

And the change worked. He came around the wicket and the ball drifted and dipped a lot more than Root expected. As a result, he was caught falling over when the ball pitched just enough in line and turned sharply to hit Root low on the pads. The umpire did not give it out, but Ashwin convinced Rohit for a review. And it was that decision they were all anxiously waiting for.

Once the three reds flashed on the giant screen, Ashwin jumped in the air, punched in delight and let out a scream. That is how much it meant to him, that is how much the wicket of Root was for India’s fortunes. Once Root got out, Crawley and Jonny Bairstow took the lead forward with the England opener getting to his half-century. However, soon Kuldeep Yadav did his part as he bamboozled Crawley to clean him up. The left-arm wrist spinner then trapped Ben Stokes as the ball hit the pads before rolling into the stumps. Bairstow would give an easy catch immediately after tea and all of a sudden England had gone from 110-3 to 120-6.

As much as Ashwin continued to make hay and show his genius with the craft, Kuldeep did his part too. He was adapting to the conditions in such a way that he varied the pace and trajectories constantly based on what he was getting off the pitch. The spin duo would run through the lower order sharing nine wickets between them — Ashwin taking his 35th Test fifer. “What I loved about Kuldeep today was the way he worked on his run-up and momentum. We all know how much revs he can put on the ball, and what skill he has. The change of pace that changes the trajectory, which he is willing to do now... I think he is double the bowler that he is. Really happy for him. I just stole the fifer away from him,” Ashwin praised Kuldeep.

The genius of Indian spinners apart, England did not help themselves by going into a shell nor did they adapt and play down the ground as much as Crawley or Dhruv Jurel did. The rub of green too was with India as a few umpire’s call decisions went the hosts way, unlike Saturday. Once India’s first inning got over, the entire match was on fast forward where from conceding first innings, the hosts got to a position of strength as they finished the day with 40/0. For India, the job is still not done. They still need another 152 runs and all England need is ten good balls.

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The New Indian Express