Does R Ashwin really need a rank turner? Probably not. An off-spinner who is aware of his capabilities — flight, dip, drift, pace variations, carom ball — the mind games he plays with batsmen are enough to create havoc on half-a-decent spin-friendly pitch.
But the pitches he has bowled on so far in the series have somehow been a great leveller, grossly unfair to someone of Ashwin’s calibre. If the number of wickets is a yardstick, Ravindra Jadeja also has got a handful. South Africans Dean Elgar, Simon Harmer and Imran Tahir, too, have got wickets, and irrespective of their skill set, looked as lethal.
The art of guile and deception and the nuances on which spin bowling pivots has blurred on wickets which have offered drastic turn right from the first session of Day 1.
“I didn’t complain when I played in Johannesburg, I was dropped for a year and I will not complain here either and I see no reason why I have to complain. Swing, seam and bounce… two days match over at Trent Bridge during the Ashes. I don’t know what’s that about,” said Ashwin. “It is about the skill of batsmen to counter it.”
South African batting did not help. As if on self-destruct mode, South Africa on Thursday displayed their worst show on the tour reiterating that it is still the fear of spin and not the spin itself, which has spelt their doom. South Africa crashed within a session, posting their lowest-ever score against India. A flawed aggressive intent, probably to disturb the Indian spinners’ rhythm backfired in two hours of outlandish cricket bereft of logic.
Overnight batsman Elgar’s dismissal triggered the collapse. He dragged a short ball well outside off stump on to the stumps. Ashwin was unstoppable thereafter. The Hashim Amla-Ashwin contest has bordered on drama with a main plot where skills are involved and a subplot where Fate played the part. Amla’s own form and judgement are to blame. But even then, the way he has now been dismissed twice has heightened the subplot.
Amla tried to reach out to sweep the ball only for it to hit the back of the blade and ballooned towards Wriddhiman Saha. The ball ricocheted off the keeper’s shoulder to land in the hands of the first slip. In Mohali, Amla got out stumped after the ball dislodged the bails after hittng Saha’s shoulder.
South Africa’s hope AB de Villiers, too, lost his wit in the jungle of indiscretion. Playing perhaps the most outrageous shot against Jadeja by trying push the ball to leg from well outside the off, de Villiers lobbed it back to the bowler.
The series has so far showed that Faf du Plessis has little measure of playing spin. He looked a rookie the way he went to a straight one from Jadeja. Jadeja and Ashwin made it untenable for the rest.
Amla perhaps got the plot completely wrong and delayed Imran Tahir’s introduction into the attack. An initial phase of wasteful bowling by Harmer and Duminy helped Shikhar Dhawan and Chteshwar Pujara to get their eyes in. Brought on in the 25th over, Tahir ran through the Indian innings as if to prove a point to his captain. Within his first four overs, he knocked off Dhawan, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane.