R Ashwin still doesn’t forget the last day of the Johannesburg Test of 2013-14. India had set South Africa more than 450, and on the last day it was set up for the spinner in the side to help finish the hosts off. Ashwin bowled 36 overs for no wicket as South Africa first threatened to win the Test, and then eventually settled down for a draw.
Ashwin doesn’t have great statistics in South Africa, England and Australia, but he has rarely been handed out conditions that make him a factor. More than four years after that Wanderers debacle, Ashwin found a pitch that gave him some turn, and he has not just kept India alive but in partnership with Hardik Pandya he has given India the upper hand despite losing the toss and watching their main fast bowlers give away runs like millionaires.
“It was a reality check in terms of not being able to win a Test match for the country on day five when all things were actually set up for a spinner,” Ashwin said after bowling 30 overs for under three an over and three wickets to go with it. “It was a hit on my professional pride, and from there on I knew I had to work on certain things. Obviously, if you don’t take wickets you don’t get bull headed and believe things will get better from next time.
“I am not made that way at least. So I worked on making my action a lot more repeatable and I worked on the wrist position at time of release and also added a few things to my repertoire and used my wrist a lot more when I bowl and used my palm more when I bowl the floater. Obviously, these things have combined over the last few years. I have had a great time over the last two-three years. I am just taking the confidence forward, and I am trying to get better as the day goes and by the end of this series I will be a far better bowler than what I started.”
Ashwin almost didn’t play the match, but the fact that the pitch changed in nature over the last couple of days gave him reassurance he had a role to play. “Two days from the game it looked like we are going to play an all-seam attack,” Ashwin said. “And then when we walked into the ground yesterday, it was white in colour, the grass was coming off. All of a sudden I really had to pull myself back and think I am in the game now. Today morning when we came to the ground, it looked like a wicket that was really flat and had to have a spinner in the game. Personally, from my side of it, I was very happy that the grass was taken off, if not I think it would have been all-seam attack. That’s the way it goes, right? I have seen a lot of cricket matches where people who haven’t been in contention to play the match, come in and get those wickets. So, this was one of those days.”
Ashwin said there wasn’t much help for the fast bowlers in the surface. Even the spin that he got was from the dampness in the morning session, and he had to work harder in the second half of the day. It was particularly satisfying for him to have contributed with the wickets of Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Quinton de Kock on a day that for a long duration looked like it was going ominously wrong for India.
“I would like to think I have kept us in the game,” Ashwin said of the challenge on the first day and on how he fared. “It could have so easily been a game where they could have run away with it after the second session. I like to believe I was just dogged enough. I think my experience of going to England and playing helped because this has been a sort of wicket which you get there especially where I played, at New Road, where it’s pretty flat. One ball jumps occasionally and then it goes flat for a pretty long time.
“My first-class team-mates there would advice that I have to develop a lot of patience, and hearing those things from them was definitely a reality check for me. Yeah, 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.”