R Ashwin, the top-ranked Test bowler, had an underwhelming tour of Bangladesh but a couple of tweaks in technique have allowed him to return back to his best in the ongoing series against Australia.
The 36-year-old, who claimed seven wickets in Bangladesh at a mediocre average of 35.14, is currently the leading wicket-taker in the four-match series against Australia. The offspinner has taken 24 wickets at an average of 15.58 and a strike rate of 35.58.
However, he would be more pleased with what he did in the first innings of the fourth and final Test in Ahmedabad. Playing on a dead surface, Ashwin took 6/91 in 47.2 overs and restricted Australia under 500.
"You can go to bed feeling a lot better instead of having just three wickets in your kitty. It does feel good as you end up with a good bag of wickets, even if you don't bowl sometimes, you feel good about it. I will go to bed tonight a bit early and a bit happier," said Ashwin.
“No spell is better than the other. And I felt at various stages in this particular series, be it in Delhi, the numbers probably don’t give you a five or six but the ball is coming out beautifully.
“…and whatever changes I have put in — loading (getting into delivery stride), cocking my wrists (wrist position), all those things have proved that my spells have been a lot more penetrative.”
Talking about the surface, Ashwin explained: “However smaller changes that I have made has ensured that I have got enough purchase off the pitches, and it’s done more in the air than what it did in Bangladesh.
“It wasn’t a pitch where a lot was going for me so I had to use the scrambled seam, the drift and whatever was available, I would take it with both hands. We expected the wicket to play well but not as slow as it did. So let’s hope that it gets tougher to bat on as the game goes on.”
In Tests at home, this was Ashwin’s 26th five-wicket haul. By virtue of it, he went past Anil Kumble’s record of 25. He now has the most five-wicket hauls for an Indian at home. Overall, only Muttiah Muralitharan (45), has more five-for at home. With 113 wickets against Australia, Ashwin now has the most wickets against an opponent for an Indian in Tests.
Ashwin’s load-up was different, he had a higher release point, and was constantly playing around with the batters’ head. “The pace of the pitch allowed the batters to play a lot more off the back-foot. I did that in Australia as well during the last Border-Gavaskar Trophy and one of the ideas is to force batsman to miss the pace or trajectory.
“I felt pace off the pitch whenever I bowled, the trajectory was a bit fuller and batters tend to go on back-foot which Usman (Khawaja) was doing throughout the game. Because a different wrist cock will get the seam in a different position. All these are complexities inside my head and how it comes out is how the batters see it.”
Thanks to centuries from Khawaja and Cameron Green, Australia posted 480 in their first innings. Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill then tackled a tricky 10-over phase with utmost ease. Ashwin said the pitch is still solid for batting and India will have to get a good lead in the first essay as things might get difficult in the last two days.
“This is a game of second innings but we have to bat well and probably see some of our top order batters get a big score and have some chance and come out batting day after tomorrow, I will be cheering batters from bottom of my heart after a day like this as a bowler.”