Much has been said about how the role of the Indian spinners changes when they play Test matches overseas. Wicket-taking options at home, they need to play the containing role on pitches abroad for the fast bowlers to strike.
In the first innings of the MCG Test R Ashwin took on that role and played it to perfection. For most part of the innings, Ashwin kept the pressure on from his end, persisting with a nagging line and not giving the Australian batsmen many hit-me balls. However, the pacers failed to make the most of that pressure and runs came freely from the other end.
Result: Smith, who was fairly quiet for the first and most part of the second session on day-two, opened up just before tea to take Australia’s total to 530 in a brisk fashion.
Ashwin acknowledged that his 44-9-134-3 was his best overall bowling performance in an innings in this series, mainly because of how much he had to concentrate on being persistent and accurate.
“The last two days have been really hard for me,” Ashwin said. “I worked really hard and put in an honest effort. I put in whatever I have practiced over the last few weeks here and tried to be very disciplined with my skills. I have bowled pretty well in patches before but this is probably the best overall performance I have had in the series.”
Ashwin’s brilliance, however, was not enough to stop Smith from scoring 192 – his third century of the series, which is also his highest Test score – to take Australia to 530. In reply, India finished with 108 for 1 at stumps, with Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara at the crease.
Ashwin said that given the batting friendly conditions, Australia’s total is par and not at all out of India’s reach.
“We looked to get them out early; that was the plan when we started the day,” he said. “Unfortunately Smith batted really well and they got a bit too many runs for our liking.
“Anybody who is in such form, you hope to get some luck and get him out early. But we haven’t managed to find his edge and the one we found, we put down. So, it’s one of those phases. He is batting very well.
“But if you look at the game overall, this score is par for this wicket which seems pretty slow and flat. We’ll take 110-odd for 1 and we’ll like to pile on the runs tomorrow.
“I am no one to comment on the state of the game but if you ask me, I’ll say only one thing – we will make 650 and try to put them back in,” said a confident Ashwin.
Australia’s flurry of runs on the second day began when the Indian pacers peppered an out-of-form Brad Haddin with bouncers in the morning. It was a plan that worked for India in Brisbane, where they had the Aussie wicketkeeper with the bouncer in both innings. However, today Haddin pulled and swatted them away to the fence and scored his first half-century since January.
Ashwin not only defended the ploy on the day but also said they will persevere with it against Haddin in the future as well as they are convinced he is susceptible against the short stuff.
“We really think he has a genuine weakness there and we will continue to target him there in the next innings and the next match. He doesn’t quite look comfortable.”