R Ashwin Unzips Another Bag of Tricks in Ranchi


Right after the Lunch break, R Ashwin had the shining red cherry in hand and was all set to open the bowling in second England innings. It is something which he has done numerous times in the past but not even once in the series. By Ashwin’s own standards, it has been a quiet campaign for the off-spinner but all that was about to change in the next few hours.

Also Read: Dhruv Jurel Shutting Mouths One Patient Knock at a Time

The pitch wasn’t playing any tricks but Ashwin was ready to put on a spin-bowling masterclass. With a tweaked action, different seam position and more drift than turn, he struck thrice in his first nine overs and ran through the top-order. Both Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope played for the turn which wasn’t there and Joe Root was beaten by delivery which actually turned a fair bit to trap him in front of the stumps.

With the harder ball, Ashwin got into a nice bowling rhythm and thoroughly enjoyed the “little more speed”. Both him and Ravindra Jadeja were given the option to start by captain Rohit Sharma in the team huddle and it was Ashwin who put his hand up in lightning quick time.

“Rohit said in the huddle – both of you are starting, who wants to start. I put my hand up and said I will start from this side. Glad (it paid off). I have got some sort of an attachment with the new ball and I enjoyed bowling a little bit more speed. Loved it once again,” says Ashwin in a chat with broadcasters after day’s play.

Even when wickets weren’t coming in the series, Ashwin wasn’t too “flustered”, as he said during one of Rajkot press-conferences, and was happy to not let the opposition hit in different areas. Even in the first innings, England were comfortably dealing with the off-spinner and he was left with no option but to unzip the bag of tricks and “rewire the game”.

Another masterclass from R Ashwin. (BCCI Photo)

Ditching the usual seam position – more straight or pointing towards the fine-leg, Ashwin initially operated with a grip where the seam was more towards the square-leg region. The change in grip allowed him to extract more side-spin early in the spell.

“I had to go back and rewire the game. I am someone who comes from the top and like 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 literally rewire and it’s a mental switch I had to make,” he adds.

After the long first spell, Ashwin had to wait for 24 overs before he was tossed the ball again and when he was, there were more tricks waiting to come out. In his first 12 overs, he didn’t attempt the carom ball even once but there was strong anticipation of it coming out of his hand in the second spell.

England were eight down, Ashwin needed two for a fifer – a record fifer – and out came the much-awaited carom. It came off just like he would have liked and Ben Foakes clearly had no clue about that one as he played for the turn only to present a regulation return catch to trigger another celebration, both in the middle and the commentary box.

Dinesh Karthik was watching the action on a television screen in the commentary box when a very excited Sunil Gavaskar enacted the carom ball release as they together saw the replays. But what took Ashwin so long to try the variation?

“For some strange reason my knee has been acting up. It just takes me 10-12 balls to warm up. I had a warmup before getting in as well. So once I got my length right that is when I wanted to try it (carrom ball) because I didn’t want to give away extra runs because we were chasing last, so every single run to chase is a big bonus,” explains Ashwin.

England nine down and Ashwin needed only one more wicket to complete his 35th five-wicket haul and overtake Anil Kumble to become the bowler with most fifers in Tests. Two balls later, the moment arrived as Dhruv Jurel took a sharp catch to give Ashwin his fifth! With Ashwin’s five and Kuldeep’s four, India bundled out England for just 145 in their second innings.

Kuldeep was underbowled by Rohit in the first innings as he bowled only 12 out of the 104.5 overs India sent down. The captain, however, didn’t commit that mistake again. Introduced in the 25th over, when the ball became a bit softer, the chinaman picked the big wickets of Zak Crawley and Ben Stokes to put the visitors under immense pressure.

“Kuldeep bowled brilliantly. What I loved about Kuldeep today was the way he worked on his run-up, momentum and all that sort of stuff. We all know how much revs he can put on the ball, what skill he has got. 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. That’s how the game goes,” says Ashwin.

Ashwin, set to play his 100th Test in Dharamsala, was all smiles as he rushed back to the dressing room after completing the fifer. Just like the start of the England innings, the ball was still in his hand and it will most likely join the other 34 in his trophy cabinet. His 35th five-wicket haul has put India in a very strong position and the hosts would look to finish the chase and take unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-Test series.



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