What a day on a brownish track can do to the confidence of a spinner? A couple of days ago, after his very limited role at Newlands, he was giving throwdowns to Cheteshwar Pujara in the nets. Those were early days at Centurion. Everybody in the Indian dressing room and their neighbours, that being the South Africans, felt this was a track to play an all-seam attack. If the Indian net session was a movie made in Hollywood, the credits would have mentioned Ravichandran Ashwin as ‘the guy throwing the ball at Pujara” — that is what he had been relegated to.
Two days later, Ashwin was suddenly cast as the lead star who had earned the right to write his own script, mouth his own punchlines. And he was delivering the dime a dozen at the post-play press conference, having taken more wickets (3) and bowled more overs (31) than any of his colleagues on Day 1.
“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 like to believe I was just dogged enough,” he would say. One day on a brown track and Ashwin had bite in his bowling, swagger in his step and weight in his words.
The offie would speak about the uncertainty in the countdown to this Test.
“Two days from the game it looked like we are going to play an all-seam attack. Yesterday, the pitch was white, the grass was coming off. All of a sudden I thought I am in the game now. Today morning, it looked like a really flat wicket and had to have a spinner in the game. Personally, I was very happy that the grass was taken off,” he said.
The seamers were certainly not happy, they were helpless in the first session and exhausted by stumps. Ashwin, after bowling just 8.1 overs in the first Test, has already sent down 31 overs. It was a workload he would have loved to take, the pain that he would have missed for some time now. He last played a Test a month back, and the break from the shorter version games had changed the man. “I play (only) Test cricket now, get a lot of break in between, so might as well be ready when I get an opportunity. So, there is no reason to unfasten the seat belt, you are always on.”
He spoke about enjoying what he called a relaxed period of his career where he wasn’t burdened by too many responsibilities. It came out when he was asked about Mohammad Shami’s problem of taking time in hitting the right rhythm and his small break because of a mild headache. “If you ask me that question, I would say actually I am lucky I am not a decision maker on those lines because I don’t have to make the decisions or make an opinion on someone. I am really happy to be in that position.”
It was a day when he recalled the time he spent on the county circuit playing for Worcestershire. The advice given by English team-mates came to his mind. On an atrociously sunny day, Ashwin remembered the time spent in the freezing English cold. “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 team-mates would advise that I have to develop a lot of patience.”
Ashwin would go further down the memory lane, talk about the 2013-14 series in South Africa and the lessons he learnt. The disappointment and dent that professional pride took when he couldn’t take his team home on the final day of the Test. It was this fall that saw him become stronger. He went on to learning new tricks, reinvent himself and return to the country where he had failed. Here though he had to wait. From not hoping to get a game, he would end up as the man who brought India back in the game.
Somewhere between question and answers, there was a moment when he showed humility. He was asked if he has earned the respect of South Africans after the dismal performance in the last series. “I would actually like to believe I have gathered a lot more respect, at least I would like to believe so.”
One day on a brown track can bring alive spinner. It’s a happy and humbling experience. It can make him dream and even look back at his mistakes without regret.