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India vs South Africa: Ashwin Keeps India in the Hunt But Bhuvneshwar Omission Leaves Bad Taste

Baidurjo Bhose |Cricketnext | Updated: January 14, 2018, 9:11 AM IST
India vs South Africa: Ashwin Keeps India in the Hunt But Bhuvneshwar Omission Leaves Bad Taste

R Ashwin. (Reuters)

Centurion: When you have to rely on run outs to claw back into the game on the opening day of a Test match, there is definitely something wrong with the fast bowlers in the team. Either it is the wrong pick or a bad day in the office. But in India’s case at the SuperSport Park in Centurion, it looked more like a wrong choice. To drop Bhuvneshwar Kumar – Team India’s most impressive bowler in the opening Test in Cape Town – did raise eyebrows. And the doubts were further strengthened when the duo of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah finished with figures of 0/41 and 0/57 respectively.

There was no doubt that the pitch seemed to be on the flatter side, but to fail to create an impression even with the new ball seemed a disappointment. It was almost as if Shami did not know the areas to bowl on. For Bumrah, he was back to being one-dimensional. In fact, Ishant was indeed the best pacer on display and deserved to play this one as he finished with figures of 1/32. But then, in place of Bhuvneshwar?

It looks like the team management still rates Bhuvneshwar on the bowler he was a couple of years back when he would bowl at 132-134kph and was completely ordinary the moment the ball stopped swinging. But not anymore as he now bowls at 140kph and above on a regular basis, thereby even bringing the reverse swing into his armoury. Former India opener Sunil Gavaskar read it absolutely right and said: “I don't understand why Ishant came in for Bhuvneshwar when he had taken three wickets on the opening day at Cape Town. Ishant could have replaced Shami or Bumrah but leaving him out, I don't understand.”

This is something that seemed to have baffled even Ashwin when he was asked at the press conference about Shami looking out of sorts. He decided to play it safe and said: “I am glad I am not in a position where I have to make calls on these matters.”

The fact that the team management was expecting a green wicket and was taken by surprise was further evident when Ashwin said: “Two days from the game it looked like we are going to play an all-seam attack. And then when we walked into the ground yesterday, it was white in colour and the grass was coming off. All of a sudden I really had to pull myself back and think I am in the game now. Today morning when we came to the ground, it looked like a wicket that was really flat and had to have a spinner in the game."

Ashwin did not wish to go and discuss if picking Ravindra Jadeja was an option as the second spinner, but he did say that the ball was turning. “There was turn, but nothing outrageous. On the hindsight you can say a lot of things,” he smiled.

But the field as Hashim Amla came out to bat in the 30th over was reminiscent of the Indian tracks as Ashwin had a forward and backward short leg, waiting to grab anything from the inside edge of Amla’s bat. In fact, Ashwin was undoubtedly India’s best bowler on display as he finished with figures of 3/90. And the spinner feels his stint in county cricket has helped him calm down and be a better bowler.

“I think my experience of going to England and playing helped because this has been a sort of wicket which you get there especially where I played, at New Road, where it's pretty flat. One ball jumps occasionally and goes flat for a pretty long time. My first-class teammates would advise that I have to develop a lot of patience and hearing those things from them was definitely a reality check for me. I have gone through a massive ride over the last eight months and I am in phase of life where I really want to enjoy my cricket,” he revealed.

But he was also quick to add that the team clawed back in the last session after the South Africa batsmen made hay in the first two sessions. "I like to think I have kept us in the game. It could have so easily been a game where they could have run away with it after the second session. I think this was a good last session for us. Because I feel those wickets two run outs, which were extraordinary work by Hardik and bit of luck for us in the last session are very valid incentive for the team going into day two," he confessed.

But then, was the wicket so flat that the Indians needed run outs to help them claw back into the game? South Africa opener Aiden Markram surely doesn’t think on the exact same lines. "The game is pretty much even right now. In terms of bowling we have got taller bowlers and also being used to the conditions and it would be interesting to see how the Indians bat and make an assessment," he said.

Markram further fuelled the thought that Jadeja could have been an option the Indians could have tried given the kind of turn Ashwin got. "We didn't expect there to be so much assistance for him. Ashwin was difficult to face," Markram said.

But all is not lost yet and the Indian bowlers can come back strongly on the second day, if only they show the same intent that Ashwin did. The wicket is pretty flat and a total around 350 should not be a problem for the Indian batsmen to reach in their first innings.

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First Published: January 14, 2018, 8:55 AM IST

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