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2013-14 tour was a reality check: R Ashwin

The off-spinner believed, failure to deliver in the past in India’s previous tour to South Africa was a hit to his professional pride and he was eager than ever to do well this time around

Brown pitch, less grass, more of pace and bounce – such were the talks on the eve of the 2nd Test at Centurion. What was put out on Day 1 was a pitch that was flat that had little assistance for India’s lone spinner in the side R Ashwin. By Ashwin’s own acceptance he wasn’t even sure if he would have made it to eleven until the morning of the Test.

“Two days from the game it looked like we are going to play an all-seam attack. And then when we walked into the ground yesterday, it was white in colour and the grass was coming off. All of a sudden, I really had to pull myself back and think I am in the game now,” smirked Ashwin who was instrumental in putting South Africa on the backfoot with three wickets in his bag from 31 overs. “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 an all-seam attack.”

If statistics are to go by, Ashwin does not have the best of them when it comes to South Africa, Australia or England. But, those were conditions that were hardly conducive to spin bowling. But with very little on offer on Day 1 of the Centurion Test, Ashwin made the most of what was at his disposal. For the off-spinner, it was about starting afresh from ball one. “The one thing I have comfortably done is conveniently forget the history about South Africa. I am well over it and I want to put it behind me and stride ahead forward.”

Referring to India’s 1st Test at Johannesburg back in 2013-14, wherein India almost won the Test on the final day but ultimately had to settle for a draw did take a lot of beating on Ashwin as he said, “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. It was kind of a hit on my professional pride and from there on I knew I had to work on certain things. Obviously, 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. I worked on a lot of things on my bowling and I have had a great time over the last 2-3 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.”

At one point of time when South Africa walked into Lunch without a loss of a wicket, many felt that India were poised for a leather hunt with the bulk of the South African batting line-up yet to follow. But that is when Ashwin made all the difference sending back both the openers and slightly pegging the advantage back on India’s side. AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla did get the runs flowing back, but a de Villiers inside edge and a lucky Hardik Pandya run-out got India back in business. With six wickets down and 269 runs on the board, Ashwin assessed his performance as a job well done.

“I like to think I have kept us in the game,” Ashwin said. “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 goes flat for a pretty long time. My first-class team-mates would advise that I have to develop a lot of patience and hearing those things from them was definitely a reality check for me. I have gone through a massive ride over the last eight months and I am in phase of life where I really want to enjoy my cricket.”

Ashwin though, didn’t wish to make any predictions for Day 2. It was a case of repeating the final session show of Day 1 again early on Day 2 Ashwin believed. “I would just say that we need to come out tomorrow and do what we did in the last session and today probably in our second session. Be as miserly as possible with the ball and try and dismiss them. You can’t really bowl them out on this wicket, you really have to dig in deep and purchase those wickets.” 

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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India ready for Australian challenge in World Cup opener

When the two teams last met in the U19 World Cup, it was the final in 2012, which India won

In what promises to be a mouth-watering contest, India will take on Australia in their first group game of the ICC U19 World Cup. They are the two most successful teams in U19 CWC history, having each won the tournament three times apiece, and both have brought sides stacked full of top-class players, many of whom have already had success against high-class opposition. We may well look back on this fixture, and the names of those who took part, and be amazed at how many have gone on to have significant careers. Don’t miss it.

For both teams, it’s a case of which one decides to show up. Both have veered between excellent and poor in the last 12 months, with little middle ground. India stormed through two five-match series against England, losing just once and winning eight, with one tie. But the Under 19 Asia Cup was a huge disappointment, as the lost to Nepal and Bangladesh and crashed out at the group stages. Australia similarly had a 4-1 series victory set against a 2-0 reverse against Pakistan.

Both teams had notable absentees when they struggled – the likes of Jason Sangha for Australia, and Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill for India – but they will still both be desperate to put those memories behind them with a strong opening performance.

India won their first title in 2000, with Yuvraj Singh claiming the player of the tournament award, a feat he would emulate for the senior side in 2011 as India won the World Cup proper. The 2004 player of the tournament also came from India, though the Shikhar Dhawan-inspired side lost to Pakistan in the final. The 2008 side, captained by one Virat Kohli, also claimed the title, and India added a third triumph in 2012. In 2016 they came desperately close to securing a record-breaking fourth trophy, but were beaten by West Indies in a last-over thriller.

Australia and India have clashed 33 times at this level, with the ledger currently reading 19-14 in favour of India. In World Cups however, the teams are tied at two wins apiece. Their most recent World Cup clash came in 2012, when, thanks to an Unmukt Chand century, India triumphed in the final.
India U19 captain Prithvi Shaw believed getting to New Zealand early has helped the team settle down. "We've been here a week now, played a couple of games. Everything has gone well, the preparation of the team has been good. Our goal is obviously to win the World Cup but at the same time we are looking forward to our first game," he said.

Squads

India:
Prithvi Shaw (C), Shubman Gill, Aryan Juyal, Abhishek Sharma, Arshdeep Singh, Harvik Desai, Manjot Kalra, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Pankaj Yadav, Riyan Parag, Ishan Porel, Himanshu Rana, Anukul Roy, Shivam Mavi, Shiva Singh

Australia: Jason Sangha (C), Will Sutherland, Xavier Bartlett, Max Bryant, Jack Edwards, Zak Evans, Jarrod Freeman, Ryan Hadley, Baxter Holt, Nathan McSweeney, Jonathan Merlo, Lloyd Pope, Jason Ralston, Param Uppal, Austin Waugh

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