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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

Ashwin, Umesh prove a point, SA wilt again

IND vs SA: For South Africa, the fight came from an unlikely source—the ninth-wicket pair of Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander. The two bettered South Africa’s ninth wicket partnership against India with an effort of 109 runs in 43.1 overs.

cricket Updated: Oct 12, 2019 23:36 IST
Pune: Indian cricket team players celebrate the dismissal of Quinton de Kock.
Pune: Indian cricket team players celebrate the dismissal of Quinton de Kock.(PTI)
         

“I don’t get frustrated and I don’t want to get frustrated either,” R Ashwin said at the end of the third day’s play in the second Test, referring to the struggle for the spinners on Saturday because of the resistance offered by the South African tail.

It was a statement of the star spinner’s attitude and approach to the game and gave a peek into his mindset, how he has overcome recent struggles, losing his position as the lead spinner of the team and then making a strong comeback.

The Visakhapatnam Test against South Africa was memorable for Ashwin due to the bagful of wickets, including a seven-for in the first innings. His performance in the second Test at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium here would also have given him equal satisfaction.

The level of his skill made for compelling watching, especially the way he prised out skipper Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock in a four-wicket haul that helped India dismiss the visitors for 275 in reply to India’s 601/5 declared. It gives India the opportunity to enforce the follow-on on Sunday morning if they want, having taken a potentially match-winning lead of 326.

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Ashwin’s statement on Saturday wasn’t merely for himself, it seemed apt for India’s other bowling star of the innings, Umesh Yadav, as well. Sailing in the same boat, the pacer was a revelation in his first Test since last December. He made early inroads into the South African innings with three top-order wickets. The effort couldn’t have come at a better time for the Vidarbha Express after being on the fringes of the squad for most of the past two years.

Not picked in the original squad, he would well have been playing domestic cricket for Vidarbha but for the injury to Jasprit Bumrah. Talk of making a statement!

The importance of his early strikes was felt following the resistance offered by the South Africa lower order. It showed it was not such a difficult wicket to bat on and the bowlers were only getting the rewards for their effort.

For South Africa, the fight came from an unlikely source—the ninth-wicket pair of Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander. The two bettered South Africa’s ninth wicket partnership against India with an effort of 109 runs in 43.1 overs.

Maharaj, who went for plenty with the ball, was the top-scorer with 72, but Philander was resistance personified, valiantly playing out 192 balls to remain unconquered on 44. Among the main batsmen, only Faf du Plessis lived up to his reputation with a solid 64.

UMESH EFFORT

When there is such dominance from a player like that of Virat Kohli on the second day, every other performance can get lost in its dazzle, and so it happened with Yadav’s impressive effort with the new ball on Friday evening. After his captain was done with his epic 254 not out, Umesh came out firing on all cylinders.

Playing after a long gap, the pressure was on him when he was handed the new ball. To his credit, he straightaway made an impact. A great sight when in full flow with an explosive run-up and a well-balanced delivery stride, he came out charging on Friday evening and broke the spirits in the SA dressing room with the wickets of the openers, the highly-rated Aiden Markram and in-form Dean Elgar.

Markram is the next big hope of the Proteas batting, their replacement for AB De Villiers. To see him fall to a pacer would have taken the wind out of their sails. It was the kind of track, seaming with good carry, Markram is more used to batting on than India’s batsmen. Here he was a dead duck to the second ball he faced from Yadav, caught right in front off a full and swinging delivery.

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Markram had perfect preparation, with two hundreds in the lead up to the series, against India A, and in the tour game. His low scores in the two Tests thus will be confidence shattering. Yadav took his second wicket when Elgar played on due to his indecisiveness. The paceman in the morning reduced the Proteas to 53/5 with Theunis de Bruyn falling to a spectacular catch by wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.

It had set the stage for Ashwin to take over.

When the sixth-wicket partnership between du Plessis and de Kock was starting to grow (75 runs in 102 balls), the off-spinner got the ball to dip and turn past de Kock’s hanging bat and hit the bail. With du Plessis, who continued to show stubborn resistance, Kohli changed Ashwin’s end and it worked. At the total of 162, the offie set up the batsman with a big off-break, and followed it up with one which went straight with the arm, drifted, took the edge and was nestled in the slip’s hands.

SUBCONTINENT MASTER

Watching his new ball burst on Friday and Saturday morning left many wondering why Yadav has not played more than his 42 Tests, having been around since 2011. But such is the competition for places. And he has to take some blame as his form has gone up and down from series to series. His captains have not been sure which bowler will turn up for the match.

In the last series in Australia, he was aware what his role would be: primarily as a back-up for an out of form or injured bowler as the side was packed. When the chance came, however, he was not up to it. The result was a listless effort over the two innings at Perth for 2/78 in 23 overs and 0/61 in 14 overs. To be fair, he had cause to feel aggrieved at not being among the first-choice bowlers for the tour after picking a 10-wicket haul in the preceding Test against West Indies, in October 2018. He had six wickets in the first innings and four in the second to be the Player-of-the-Match.

After Ishant Sharma, he is the senior pace bowler, but has been in and out of the team which has hampered his career.

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After the emergence of Bumrah and Mohammed Shami, he has slipped down the pecking order and is now seen as a kind of specialist at home. His record too suggests so. Of his 121 wickets, 75 have come at home in 25 Tests. His bowling average is 33 plus, at home it is 27. He loves to attack the stumps, which reflects in his mode of dismissals (bowled 34, LBW 23, caught behind 32, rest caught).

Ishant was also in such a situation till a couple of seasons ago, but raised his game in 2017 and has not looked back since. His fans are waiting for Yadav to reach a similar level of consistency where the captain can rely on him in any condition, against any opponent.

In Pune, Kohli had no reason to complain about how Yadav turned up. From being a surprise pick in the playing eleven, the third-choice pacer has emerged the main strike bowler.

His effort has put India in a position to enforce the follow-on and South Africa will spend the night guessing whether they will be made to bat again or will India pile on more runs.

Ashwin gave nothing away. “I think the captain will decide overnight. It is also important how the bowlers recover tomorrow morning.”

First Published: Oct 12, 2019 17:55 IST

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