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.”
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.”