IND vs AUS: Late in the final session, Ravichandran Ashwin, fielding at third man, saw Todd Murphy cut a Mohammad Shami ball to the vacant square boundary. The off-spinner jogged – not sprinted – towards the racing ball but his one-handed fielding effort wasn’t good enough. Four more Australian runs were added to the scoreboard. The bowler didn’t make a face nor did the captain throw up his arms.
Till that point in the Test, Ashwin had bowled 46 overs. With the sun belting down furiously on the stadium and temperature hovering in the mid-30s, it would have been unreasonable, almost inhumane, to expect Ashwin to hare around along the boundary. Besides, his 10 teammates were deeply obliged. Had it not been for his 6/91, they might have been in the furnace at the start of Day 3 too. This was not turning out to be just another Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India.
At Ahmedabad, it needed most of two days and 167.2 overs for India to get 10 wickets. In contrast, they needed just 205.5 overs to get 40 Aussie scalps in the first two Tests – Nagpur and Delhi. The run count too had climbed. Australia’s 480 was the highest any team had scored in the series. Individual scores too saw a sudden spike. Before this Test, Rohit Sharma was the only centurion, at Ahmedabad Australia’s first innings had two hundred scorers. Finally, the bat-ball balance had swung in this series. Normal service had resumed, the battle was on, showing at the Narendra Modi stadium was the classic Test match.
Even before a ball was bowled on the 22 yards here, the Aussie skipper Steve Smith, had predicted that this was to be the flattest track of the series. He had read the condition perfectly. The bowlers had to plot and plan their dismissals. Unlike at Nagpur, Delhi or Indore, there was little assistance from the pitch, cricket wasn’t a lottery at Ahmedabad.
For most of the two days, the bounce from the pitch remained true. The spinners were not benefitting from the balls that suddenly sprung on batsmen or were dubiously low. For the pacers too, the time-tested tactic of bowling stump-to-stump and hoping that one will keep low and hit the stump or bat was not working today. The batsmen could trust the bounce. If they had the stamina to keep crouching and focusing on the ball, they could score hundreds.
The Usman Khawaja dismissal was the prime example. Bowlers needed patience, a tough proposition since in the earlier Test the wickets were easy to get. Here you had to buy wickets and they were mighty expensive. It was only on his 422th ball of the innings that the left-hander Khawaja missed the line. As the opener had been doing for close to two days, for the nth time he was well positioned to work the ball on the middle-leg by the left-arm spinner Axar Patel. This time he missed the line, the ball hit the pad slightly high.
India, having burnt their DRS fingers in the last Test, were reluctant to review. They finally did. Khwaja’s marathon would end. This was on the first ball after tea. Such was the domination of the batters that the first two seasons were not just wicket-less but there also wasn’t even a loud convincing appeal. For Axar this was his second wicket in the series. How time and conditions change. In the two Tests that Axar has played on his home ground – both against England – two years back he had taken 20 wickets.
Jadeja too had the most back-breaking, shoulder-straining fruitless day of the series. The halo of 22 wickets in the last three Tests didn’t give Jadeja the look of a wrecker-in-chief on this pitch. He would work on his angle, vary the pace but he was just failing to knock over the wickets. Seldom does he bowl 35 overs in an inning in India and ends up with just one wicket.
Shami clearly should feel terribly cross with his figures. His effort of 25 overs, spread over several fiery spells with many wicket-taking balls that missed the bat or stumps by millimetres, was of high quality. He surely deserved more than one wicket. He too tried the tactics that had worked for him earlier – like bowling to left-handers from round the stump – but nothing seemed to be working.
Also spare a thought for Umesh Yadav, the only bowler to go wicketless. Never sure about his place in the side, Umesh has played about 3 Tests a year since he made his debut in 2011. He gave away 105 runs in 25 overs. For a bowler who returned to Test squad after Bumrah’s injury and was rotated with Mohammad Siraj in accordance with the team’s rotation policy, this was an outing he would have preferred to sit out. On Ahmedabad’s sleeping beauty, his pace and bounce were both ineffective. It’s a performance that needs an asterisk with a small print disclaimer mentioning the degree of difficulty in getting wickets.
Ashwin, visibly exhausted as he sat for the press conference, spoke about how he threw everything he had on the Aussie batsmen. “It was not a pitch that everything was going for me so I had to use the scrambled seam, drift and whatever was available from the pitch I would take it with both hands,” he said. About the prized wicket of the day’s other centurion Cameron Green, getting caught behind down the leg-side while sweeping, he said: “Those things don’t happen, you can’t plan to glove one to the leg-side but I can happily go back home and take credit for the plan.”
With the job with the ball finally done, Ashwin the all-rounder hopes for a day of rest. “Turning up to bat the day after our batsmen had batted for 5 sessions,” he said. The batsmen need to return the favour to the man who bowled the most and ended their miseries under the cruel Ahmedabad sun.