Udayan Nag: Not the one masses were praying for, but a century nevertheless.
New Delhi: He may have given the impression of being a cocky young newcomer by criticising the Mumbai wicket, but by bringing up his maiden century in only his third Test, Ravichandran Ashwin showed that he can do a lot more than just tweak a cricket ball.
Ashwin, 25, became only the third Indian in the history of the game to score a century and take five wickets in the same Test, and joined the illustrious company of former greats, Vinoo Mankad and Polly Umrigar in the process.
Mankad made 184 and took 5 for 196 against England in a losing effort during the Lord's Test of India's tour in 1952, while Umrigar brought up the feat with an unbeaten 172 and figures of 5 for 107 during the fourth Test against West Indies in Port of Spain, during the series in which India were ripped apart 5-0.
Ashwin, who had figures of 5 for 156 in West Indies’ first innings, played a sublime knock of 103 off 118 deliveries complete with 15 fours and two maximums on the way. When he entered at 331 for 6, India were facing the possibility of a humiliating follow-on after West Indies’ fast bowlers struck thrice with the second new ball. But with Virat Kohli at the other end, Ashwin helped reduce the deficit to 108.
A former opener at the Under-19 level, Ashwin displayed his full repertoire of strokes. This wasn’t a hit-and-giggle tailender’s innings; it was a controlled, confident and technically proficient innings. Having started with some precise boundaries, Ashwin soon overtook Kohli in their partnership and reached fifty first. Post lunch, his confidence grew and he swung two sixes off Devendra Bishoo. Soon after Ashwin was late-cutting, and he sped towards his century with consecutive paddles to fine leg off Marlon Samuels. A delicate glide down to third man on 99 was reminiscent of the way he had played his innings and would have made any top order batsman proud, if not a little nervous.
Having already proved himself in the shorter formats of the game, Ashwin has turned out to be revelation in the traditional version as well. With his latest performance he might just have slammed the door on Harbhajan Singh’s comeback into the team in the near future.
Halfway into his third Test, Ashwin already has 18 wickets to his name which includes a two five-wicket hauls, and his batting skills might just have made things even harder for Harbhajan, considering the ‘Turbanator’s’ own credentials with the bat. Ashwin also helped the 'softening of the blow' that millions of Sachin Tendulkar fans may have experienced when the master was once again left stranded on 99 international tons.
But more crucially, he has provided skipper MS Dhoni the luxury of a competent lower-order batsman with the Australian tour coming up. With offspinners traditionally struggling Down Under, it appears Ashwin has done himself a huge favour by adding a new dimension to his game.