In the first three Tests of the series between England and India, R Ashwin was conspicuous by his absence. Everyone from the fans to the experts rooted for him to be included in the playing XI.
On the first day of the Old Trafford Test, he showed why. Walking in to bat with India at 63 for 6, Ashwin breezed his way to a 42-ball 40, teaming up with MS Dhoni for a 66-run partnership.
“It felt good; I felt like a spring chicken out of the box,” he said. “I felt like I was doing something new and I just went there and enjoyed my game. I did feel a bit scratchy and different so I had to fight my way through.”
Ashwin said it was a ploy between him and Dhoni to counterattack the England bowlers instead of succumbing under the scoreboard pressure.
“The ball was going around and kicking off the length as well. When we got together he asked me to play my game and the shots I wanted to play,” Ashwin said.
“We thought that was the way to go because with hardly any runs on the board and so many wickets down, we didn’t just want to be sitting ducks there. We were rotating the strike and not giving many overs away in terms of maidens. I thought MS batted brilliantly and it was a very gutsy knock from him.”
India were bundled out for 152 on the first morning after their catastrophic start of 8 for 4 in the first 30 minutes of the Test. As James Anderson and Stuart Broad swung the ball around under the overcast sky, six Indian batsmen fell without scoring.
Ashwin said it was difficult to bat out there but rued not getting a few more runs. “From whatever I played, I felt the pitch had something in it and the bowlers exploited it pretty well. Yes, maybe we could have got a little more runs. I thought we bowled pretty well to make a comeback and if we can knock off a few tomorrow morning, it will be nice.”
Ashwin looked set and comfortable at the crease and the runs flowed fluently. However, in an attempt to pull a short one from Broad, he gave his wicket away.
“I am pretty disappointed that I threw it away in the end; I could have scored more runs from there,” he rued. “I have only myself to blame because if we had a few more runs, we could have put a bit more pressure on them. But still, if we get helpful conditions tomorrow morning and get some early wickets, we will be right back into the game.”
About his bowling, the offie said he felt comfortable with the way he struck his rhythm. “I was just feeling my way through as it was a different day for me being back in the game,” Ashwin said.
“When I started, I just wanted to get my line and length right and didn’t want to give away too many runs. I struck my rhythm really well. And I am a sort of bowler that if I get three-four overs going nicely, I start toying around with my speed and revolutions on the ball. I felt really comfortable towards the end of the spell.”
Ashwin had a word of encouragement for Varun Aaron, who is playing his second Test after making a debut in 2011. “He got it right in the pockets of two-three overs and he bowled short spells,” Ashwin said of Aaron.
“When he got it right, he was handful. He definitely got Gary Ballance into a lot of trouble, who wasn’t able to get into good positions against Varun. He bowled quick and sharp. We just hope he carries on and gives us a fifer tomorrow.”