It has become a norm in recent times that if Ravichandran Ashwin picks up wickets, India are in a good position. If he doesn’t, India are in trouble.
It’s unusual that the Indian offie goes without a heap of wickets in an innings. The most recent example of that was in the first innings of the second Test against New Zealand, where Ashwin took only one wicket on a seaming Eden Gardens pitch.
Also, rarely has Ashwin bowled on the first two days of a Test match in recent times. Under Virat Kohli’s captaincy, he has picked up 19 wickets in the first innings of a Test, coming in varying conditions of Sydney, Galle, Bengaluru, Kingston, Port of Spain and here in Rajkot.
But none was as flat as the typical Rajkot pitch. In fact, Ashwin has even taken two five-wicket haul in recent times on the first day of a Test. Barring the two wickets in the first session of the first day on Wednesday, Ashwin went without a wicket for four full sessions.
After dismissing Ben Duckett courtesy a first-slip catch by Ajinkya Rahane in his 12th over, Ashwin toiled hard but without luck for the next 34 overs, finishing with 2/167 in 46 overs. He has only gone more expensive on two other occasions when he finished with 3/194 against Australia in Adelaide in 2011-12 and 3/183 against England in Kolkata in 2012-13.
England’s three centurions – Joe Root, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes – made the most of the flat track to bully the Indian bowlers including Ashwin. He erred in length on occasions, letting Stokes dance down the track and play some exquisite on-drives and also pull him to the mid-wicket fence.
Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, who picked up the most wickets for India (3/86) on his home ground, said it was the responsibility of all the bowlers to pick up wickets, not just his spin counterpart.
Asked if Ashwin’s inability to take wickets was the cause for England putting up a 500-plus total, Jadeja said: “Nothing like that. We had five bowlers. It is the responsibility of all the other bowlers including me to pick up wickets. It’s not just Ashwin’s responsibility. On a given day, good bowlers don’t take wickets. There are half-chances and catches are dropped. It is part of the game.”
Credit must be given to the visitors too. Rather than going in with a pre-determined mindset to tackle Ashwin and Co, England patiently took one ball at a time, facing what was directed at them.
As Wednesday’s centurion Joe Root said: “It wasn’t a specific approach against Ashwin. More than anything, as soon as anyone lets go out of the ball, you’ve just got to play what’s coming at you. We tried to make sure we used the both sides of the wicket. Not just score with the spin, but try and do against if the opportunities arose and make it hard for him to bowl one length.”
Root, though, did pay respect to Ashwin for his record. “You got to actually respect these guys for being successful for a long period of time and even for the previous series.”
Purely going by current form, Ashwin cannot be kept quiet for long. But this Test has been a learning experience for India’s premier spinner.