By Khurram Habib
New Delhi, Dec 18 (IANS) Having had the experience of bowling at the Adelaide Oval just two years ago and touring Australia four times over the last decade, R Ashwin was on the money from the start during the second day’s play of the first Test as he picked four for 55 to record his best-ever spell not just Down Under but also outside Asia and West Indies, i.e. in nations where the Indian spinners usually find tough to perform.
The Indian offie, bowling slower through the air and relying on bounce, picked the prized wicket of Steve Smith for just one in his very first over as he deceived him with one that did not turn and bounce, catching him on the backfoot and sparking wild celebrations. He then scalped Travis Head and Cameron Green too.
“You know how much he (Smith) bats, his appetite for runs is huge. So in the context of the game, where it was placed, I felt it was important wicket, so I enjoyed and I am really happy,” Ashwin told reporters on Friday while explaining the wild celebrations.
Ashwin had picked three each in the two innings in the Adelaide Test during the last tour in 2018-19 as India scored a close win. That was the only Test he played in Australia during that tour as fitness issues ruled him out for the rest of the series, including one at Sydney where spinner Kuldeep got some help and picked a fifer.
“I pretty much had decent outings every time I have gone on to play in the last 18 months or so and like I said, things can get blown out of context and I have put those things in shelf and it is in the backyard and I have learnt from there. I really want to have all the fun all I possibly can. I don’t want to sit back and think whether that is the best or not. There is an innings to go and I looking at the entire Test series and it is a great opportunity for me to replicate that,” Ashwin added, emphasising that he does not want to bask in the glory yet and want to focus in the forthcoming Tests.
That is understandable considering that India’s last tour of England, in 2018, proved to be one where he began well but then faded. He scalped four for 62 and three for 59 at Birmingham before going wicket-less at Lord’s and collecting four wickets in his remaining two Tests at Nottingham and Southampton after bowling 75.4 overs. He played the last two Tests despite a hip injury. He was left out of the last Test at The Oval.
At the Adelaide Oval, where he first played in 2012 and then returned in 2018 for his second match there, he seems to have improved. While he got five wickets for 267 runs back in 2012 at 53.4, in 2018 he got six for 149 at 24.83. This time, he has gone a step further, his four scalps in first innings costing just 13.75 runs.
Former India spinner Harbhajan Singh had told IANS that the Indian spinners will need to bowl slower through air to get some bounce like Nathan Lyon. This is exactly what Ashwin did on Friday.
Asked if he has been picking ideas from the opposition bowlers when touring abroad, Ashwin said that he tries to learn things from them but comparisons or expecting him to bowl in the mould of others is unfair.
“Sometimes when we look at these comparisons, they are skewed. Nobody asks the batsmen to go and watch Steve Smith and replicate him on an Australia tour, or Alastair Cook or Joe Root (in England) the way they play because I think we are all aware that everyone’s skills are different,” he said before adding, “You can learn from people, finer things especially when you travel abroad… the passages of play which you want to go your way when you play as a spinner. As far as I am concerned I see if I can learn and prepare thoroughly. Put in this effort. How people perceive it and how they compare it, it is for them to do that.”
His big test will come in Australia’s second innings as he says the wicket will get better for batting.
“What happened at Adelaide last time — the wicket gets better to bat on as the Test match goes on. We felt that it played the best for the batters on the Day 5 (in 2018 when India won),” he added.
The Indian team would hope that he does as well as he did in the second innings in 2018 and not go the way he did in England a couple of years back, going wayward after starting off well.