India’s spin twins Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja combined to dismiss Australia for 91 inside one session of the third day’s play in Nagpur as the hosts took a 1-0 lead in the four-match Border-Gavaskar series. And after India’s win by an innings and 132 runs, Ashwin took a dig at the pre-match chatter about the pitch.
In a chat with the captain Rohit Sharma on bcci.tv, Ashwin asked: “Pitch talk is the real favourite topic on social media, especially for touring teams. When you were batting, not one ball nicked off and went to silly point or short leg. You guys did not look in trouble. What is the secret? Is it good batsmanship or do we play on a different pitch?”
Ashwin is not wrong. Preceding the days before the first Test, the discourse revolved pitch doctoring, raging turners. The build-up to an exciting series was made on assumptions before even a ball had been bowled.
Sure, the match was over inside three days but was it down to the pitch being a minefield or being unfit for batting? Rohit put on a masterclass of controlled aggression during his solid 120 in the first innings to illustrate that it was not the case.
In the post-match press conference, he was straightforward about the wicket that was dished out in Nagpur and clarified that there weren’t any real demons in the pitch. He said, “The pitch was good. We were prepared to have hard days of bowling and spending time on the field sessions after sessions. We never thought they will get bowled out in a session. The pitch became slow and slow and there was not much bounce in the pitch so it was a bit of surprise for us.”
It is safe to say that India’s dominating performance was down to preparation, experience but also application. It can be argued that Australia, in theory, did not do much wrong when it came to preparation. After deciding to skip the tour games ahead of the tour because they apparently do not provide enough exposure to tackle real pitches for the series, Australia trained in Sydney on spin-friendly tracks prior to the series, replicating the conditions they were likely to face in India. They also spent a week in Bengaluru before the first Test, flying in spinners that would help them get acclimatised to Ashwin and Jadeja.
The one thing that seems unique to India, however, is that they consciously avoid analysing the pitch a big part about the equation in their pre-match interactions. Rohit reiterated the same saying, “Mentally, one thing we’ve spoken about in the dressing room is that there will be no talks about the pitch, what the pitch is doing. Just go and apply yourself because we’ve all grown up on these pitches so there are no talks about the pitches anymore in this changing room. Everyone’s sitting there and watching the game as to how much the ball is turning, is it keeping low, what kind of shots you want to play.”
Rohit used an excellent analogy to describe the riches an Indian captain possesses when they have a spin-bowling trio in Axar Patel, Jadeja and Ashwin. He said, “It’s like captaining Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc in Australia,” Rohit said. “Pretty similar. Because when you have the quality of Axar, Jadeja and Ash, having played in India for so many years, growing up playing on pitches like this, it’s always a blessing. They never disappoint.”
He further added: “The conditions are there, yes, but you’ve got to come out and extract [from] those conditions as well, because the conditions are there for both teams, it’s not just for us. Whichever team we play, the conditions are there for everyone, but to come out and extract something from the pitch is what makes them really, really special. They’ve played on pitches like this a lot, so they know exactly what to do, which areas to hit, and how to keep applying that pressure, setting the field right.”
Of course, playing at home in conditions is a big advantage. The dominance of the spin twins, Rohit’s batting brilliance and the advantage of Axar Patel and Jadeja having the prowess to carry the innings with the bat lower down the order as things get tough, is all down to experience.
Rohit further elaborated on it, saying: “When I was a player, and Virat [Kohli] was captaining then, I noticed one thing that no matter if we don’t get a wicket, that pressure has to be there so that the opposition makes a mistake, and that is something I learned when Virat was captaining and these guys were bowling.”
“That is what I’m trying to do now - just apply that pressure, don’t get too excited with wickets, that it’s going to come every ball, it’s not going to happen like that. If it happens, nothing like it, but we’ve got to expect that it’s not going to happen every ball. You’ve just got to keep at it, and keep putting the ball in right areas, let the pitch help you.”
During the Test, Ashwin surpassed 450 Test wickets in the first innings and after the second innings rampage, now has 457 in the bag. Ashwin took five in the second innings and a match haul of eight wickets while the left-handed Jadeja grabbed five on his international return from a knee injury to bowl out Australia for 177 in the first innings.
Rohit reminded again that he often finds himself in a challenging but fortunate dilemma when making bowling changes as he has to choose between the two match-winners. He revealed that Jadeja also kept pressing him for a bowl in the second session to complete his own landmark of 250 Test wickets.
“They are all reaching their milestones. Jadeja was on 249 wickets and he was telling me, ‘Give me the ball.’ Ashwin was on four wickets and he wanted five and that was the challenge I was facing. I really don’t know too much about milestones but these guys know about it,” he joked.
“Whichever end is more helpful, all the spinners want to bowl from that end, that’s obvious, but the pressure is always on me to find the right end for the right one. It’s a challenge, but again, I try and play a little bit of match-up game as well.”
“Ash has a good match-up against left-handers, not that he can’t get right-handers out, but he’s got a great match-up against left-handers. Ravindra Jadeja and Axar have an unbelievable match-up against right-handers, so I try and keep those things in my mind while trying to rotate the three of them.”
Pitches will come and go, but when a captain has the luxury of varied spin-bowling all-rounders like Rohit does, India can dominate in these conditions like they have been over the last few years.
Quotes courtesy: AFP and ESPNCricinfo