Steve Smith falls for R Ashwin’s straight trap
Talk about instant impact. That was R Ashwin bagging the biggest wicket in the match, Steve Smith, with the sixth ball of his very first over of the game. It was classic guile; Ashwin lured Smith into the mistake, triggering the Australian collapse that set up a thrilling day on the field for India.
Ashwin had a lot riding on him going into the Adelaide Test. He was the lone spinner in a XI that had only four specialist bowlers. He is always fighting for a place in the team overseas; he knows Ravindra Jadeja is the preferred player in his role.
He finished the day with four wickets. It started with Smith.
Called in to bowl in the eighth over post the lunch break after Jasprit Bumrah had sent the openers back, Ashwin put his plan into work with two consecutive flighted, full-length deliveries. Both were defended solidly by Smith.
Smith, arguably the greatest Test batsman right now, has never been an easy victim to off-spin. According to Cricviz data, he has scored 1344 of his 7227 Test runs (his tally going into the first Test) against off-break bowlers at an average of 84. This is the highest tally against a single type of bowler after the 3861 runs he has scored against right-arm pacers. Against Ashwin too, he averaged 116 (348 runs off 570 balls) in 14 innings going into the Test series. Before Friday, Ashwin has claimed Smith only thrice. One of those dismissals came at a series-deciding Test in Dharamsala in 2017. Ashwin pulled out the same plan again.
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After defending twice against Ashwin’s loopy deliveries, Smith anticipated another off-break that would move in after pitching on the off-side.
By now, Smith had scored only a single run off 28 deliveries after having survived a run out scare on the second ball of the same over after a mix-up with Marnus Labuschagne. The impatience to keep the scoreboard moving was apparent.
Now, Ashwin is slower than Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyon (86.6 kph to 87.4 kph average speed) and his release point is closer to the stumps than Lyon’s. Both these aspects make his variations more difficult to pick.
It all built up to this: for his final delivery of the over, Ashwin whipped in a straighter ball, slightly faster, with a bit of skid on it, sticking to his just outside the off-stump line. Smith attempted to defend with a straight bat close to his body anticipating a delivery that would move in. Instead, the ball took a thick outside edge and went straight into the hands of Ajinkya Rahane at the slip.
Deja vu, Dharamsala, 2017: same bowler, same ball, same man at first slip.
Starting all over again
“I’m just so happy to be playing Test cricket again, it’s been a long while, it felt like I was making my debut all over again. Obviously Steve Smith was a big wicket, in the context of the game a very important wicket,” Ashwin said after the day’s play.
“I don’t want to sit back and think whether that’s (first innings performance) the best or not. There’s an innings to go and I’m looking forward to the entire Test series. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
That Friday’s dismissal came outside of India only increases its value for Ashwin.
“Ashwin often looks to be lacking the belief on overseas tours. Today’s performance will give him a lot of that,” said former India spinner Maninder Singh. “You could see that in his body language after the dismissal. On Australian pitches, even if your ball does not turn you still have that bounce, that’s the beauty. The only requirement is belief.”