India vs Australia: R Ashwin's ability to adjust to team needs apart from taking crucial wickets makes him indispensable

Day 2 of Adelaide Test could well be the day when it was very obvious that R Ashwin could toggle between his roles in the bowling unit. Changing roles from strike bowler to stock bowler, he did not relent either his consistency or his accuracy.

G Rajaraman, December 07, 2018

It may be too soon, someone warned in a friendly tone, to brand R Ashwin as the leader of the bowling unit even on foreign conditions after he claimed three wickets and pulled India back in the game on the second day of what is proving to be an engaging battle at the Adelaide Oval.

Yet, it will not be wrong to suggest that the off-spinner is the veritable engine-room that powers the Indian Test attack now. The pace bowlers may be the most important weapons in India's armoury but you can be sure that the off-spinner has had a role in the planning, offering them his inputs in the planning room.

R Ashwin took three wickets in 33 overs, giving away just 50 runs on Day 2 of Adelaide Test. AFP

R Ashwin took three wickets in 33 overs, giving away just 50 runs on Day 2 of Adelaide Test. AFP

Of course, he is on top of his own bowling now. Like he did at Edgbaston against England earlier this year, when he claimed seven wickets in the first Test of the series, Ashwin exposed the Australian batsmen's technical limitations with his probing attack after paceman Ishant Sharma had drawn first blood by leaving Aaron Finch's wicket in disarray on Friday.

Ashwin understood the demands that the Adelaide Oval track, slower than when he batted on the opening day, made of the bowlers and varied the pace well. He used the trickery of the drift that the ground allowed him to employ and showed a masterly control over the spin to keep the batsmen guessing.

The three left-handers' wickets that he claimed in his first 15 overs were the result of him causing doubts in their minds. Marcus Harris was intent on defence but was beaten by the drift and inside-edged on to his pad for a simple catch to silly mid-off; Shaun Marsh was enticed to drive but ended up edging the ball to the wicket.

Yet, it was Usman Khawaja's dismissal that topped the other wickets, not just because he could have been a thorn in India's side. Ashwin flighted the delivery and the Australian batsman decided the best way to deal with it would to be smother the spin. The ball landed a few inches farther away, bounced and took Khawaja's gloves for wicket-keeper Rishabh Pant to pouch really well.

Of course, his three wickets were crucial to India's fightback after being bowled out for 250, 50 runs, if not more, below par. But his contribution in the second half of the day when he bowled without reward was no less important. His challenge grew as the rest of the batmen played him from the 'safety' of the crease rather than step out and take him on.

Soaking in the pressure, he was ready with the waiting game, pegging away relentlessly for 18 more overs through the afternoon. His persevering and miserly bowling enabled Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma to land crucial strikes as India continued to scrap hard. It showed him as a good reader of the match situation and as someone who could quickly adapt his bowling.

If he was hoping for a spin partner to be bowling at the other end, he was not going to make it public. As things stood, he appeared happy that the pacemen kept the pressure up at the other end with some well-directed bowling of their own. They did not let the Australians score freely and also picked up four wickets along the way.

Ashwin's three-wicket haul on Friday helped him slip past Mohammed Shami as India's most successful bowler this year. He now has 35 wickets in 2018 while the paceman, wicket-less in the Test so far, has 33, Ishant Sharma (33) and Jasprit Bumrah (30) have ensured that the four of them have served India well in the Tests that they have played together.

That 20 of his 35 scalps this year have come in overseas games in South Africa, England and Australia is evidence of his determination to be penciled in as India's first choice spin bowler. He had given ample indication of working on perfecting his craft, be it with what he can do with his fingers or with reading the batsman's mind.

In what can be seen as signs of someone who is comfortable in his space, Ashwin showed a readiness to keep offering his bowling colleagues and his captain inputs. It was an important part of the team coming together to pursue the collective goal of securing the upper-hand in the first Test of what promises to be a riveting series.

For all that, Friday could well be the day when it was very obvious that Ashwin could toggle between his roles in the bowling unit. Changing roles from strike bowler to stock bowler, he did not relent either his consistency or his accuracy. What's more, he offered further proof of his ability to play any role when entrusted with the task of bowling with the second new ball late in the day.

It is his ability to adjust his craft to the team's needs that helped the bowling unit complete a good day's work on the second day of the Test. Of course, there is a lot of cricket left to be played in the game but it will be a good guess that when challenged to lead the attack on a track that appears to be palpably slowing down by the day, Ashwin will raise his hand and want to be counted.

Updated Date: Dec 07, 2018







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