Arriving into Chennai for the final Test against India, few would have looked beyond Ravichandran Ashwin to produce a grand show before his home fans to complete the domination over England in the five-Test series. (HIGHLIGHTS)
Ashwin had to an extent ended talk about succeeding only on rank turners, criticism which followed the 3-0 series win over South Africa late last year. With the MA Chidambaram Stadium pitch traditionally aiding spin, it was only natural the leading wicket-taker in the series was expected to add many more to his tally of 27 in the first four Tests, which gave India an unassailable 3-0 lead.
The last time India played a Test here, against Australia in 2013, Ashwin had finished with 13 wickets and only skipper MS Dhoni’s 224 denied him the Man-of-the-Match award.
However, on a pitch which offered some turn initially but where spinners had to bowl quicker through the air to even hurry the batsmen, the off-spinner went for 1/151 after toiling for 44 overs.
In the end, pacers Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma bent their backs to ensure England did not run away with the innings to ensure there was still interest in the Test with three days to play.
The pace spearhead sympathised with the spinners. “It’s very difficult to bowl on this track. The ball is not turning that much. The typical Chennai track is different. That is the problem, we can’t get wickets at particular moments.”
Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja took 3/106, accurate and faster and extracting turn but leg-spinner Amit Mishra, who struggled in the Rajkot Test and was replaced by rookie off-spinner Jayant Yadav, flopped on return with only last man Jake Ball’s wicket to show for his 25.2 overs.
India missed the injured Mohammed Shami, who has been the best in exploiting slow pitch conditions, but Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma exploited the hardness around the short-of-length area on the pitch to produce effective bouncers.
Target left shoulder
“We made sure Moeen played all the balls. We tried to bowl to his left shoulder,” he said, explaining how top-scorer Moeen Ali, a left-hander, was forced into miscuing a hook to be caught at short-leg for 146.
Although Indian spinners have dominated the series, the pacers’ contribution has been crucial. In the first four Tests, spinners accounted for 55 wickets with Ashwin and Jadeja together taking 43 while the pacers contributed a crucial 16 scalps.
India’s bowling attack has also looked balanced because of the pacers’ ability to bowl in tandem and with far more consistency than in the past. With Shami rested due to knee soreness, Ishant Sharma stepped up in Chennai, in his first Test since the West Indies tour.
Umesh Yadav conceded the lack of life in the Chennai track was frustrating, but said his own bowling has drastically improved as he has played regularly. “I’m learning from past mistakes, it is all about how many matches I have played. That is why I’m getting better.”
Ishant’s return made a difference. “He is a senior bowler and knows how to get wickets on this kind of track. If he is bowling with you, you understand the wicket quickly, he tells you whether the ball will reverse or not.”