Ashwin in the zone again to turn Ranchi Test India’s way

Ravichandran Ashwin has picked up 9 wickets in the two innings of the Ranchi Test (Image: BCCI)

India had fought back wonderfully well with Dhruv Jurel playing a masterclass. Despite his brilliance, England still had a 46-run lead. With the pitch deteriorating and balls turning and keeping low, that lead was a handy one. India needed early wickets to stay in the contest.

Come in, Ravi Ashwin. Against an opening pair that has been aggressive all through the series, Ashwin needed to stay patient. Back his strengths and absorb the early pressure. Ben Duckett hit two early boundaries and the intent was clear. England wanted to counterattack and extend the lead as quickly as possible. A good session before tea, and the game could yet again have drifted England’s way. The pressure was well and truly on, and for the umpteenth time in his career, Ashwin rose to the occasion.

A ball that drifted in with the arm had the measure of Duckett. He could just fend a catch to Sarfaraz Khan, and India were on the board. The dangerous Duckett had been dismissed, and Ollie Pope was on a pair out in the middle. Ashwin sensed his opportunity. He knew Pope would be apprehensive, and that’s exactly what happened. Pope, despite a half-forward movement decided to go back at the very last second and missed the ball. It hit him in front of the leg stump and Ashwin knew he had his man. As Kumar Dharmasena raised his finger, Ashwin was pumped up. He knew he was into England, and India were clawing back ground.

With two down for 19, India had a chance. But then, Zak Crawley was still out there and Joe Root, fresh from a hundred in the first innings, had joined him in the middle. A spell of 45 minutes saw England dominate, and the lead crossed 100. Yet again, it was Ashwin who Rohit Sharma had turned to. He pushed it from round the wicket and the fullish ball caught Root’s leg on the way. Ashwin was sure he had his man. While Dharmasena disagreed, Rohit listened to his premier bowler and signalled for a review. It was the luckiest of dismissals as the ball had just pitched in line. India and Ashwin had made their luck. After some luckless innings, he deserved every bit of it.


Root was gone, and all of a sudden, the match was even. Ashwin had yet again done the job for his team and his skipper and brought India back into the contest.

Thereafter, it was all Kuldeep Yadav for a period. A brilliant spell which had England on the mat. It does merit the question whether he was under-bowled in the first innings. But just as India seemed to have taken complete control, Ben Foakes start to dig in. He has done so a few times already this series, including in the first innings, and was farming the strike well with Shoaib Bashir at the other end. Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep tried hard, but England were still alive.

It was time for one last Ashwin spell. And yet again, he was up for the fight. He deceived Foakes in the flight, and the batter was early into his stroke. A simple caught-and-bowled, and England were nine down. Ashwin against Jimmy Anderson always has one result, and this was no different. He did not waste much time and picked up his 35th five-for to equal Anil Kumble. Having crossed 500 wickets in Rajkot, this was the best statement of intent from Ashwin.

Ravi Ashwin walking off after Day 4’s play (Image: BCCI)

He is still India’s premier match-winner in home conditions. And when we think that his family situation isn’t normal yet, and his mother was taken ill a week ago, you understand the mental pressure on the man. By God’s grace, she is stable and that allowed Ashwin to get back to national duty. To shut out the outside noise and focus on the job at hand isn’t easy, but Ashwin did it to perfection. Without Jasprit Bumrah, he needed to do so, for he was Rohit’s go-to bowler in Ranchi.

Do we celebrate Ashwin enough? Isn’t he one of the best ever? Perhaps as potent a match-winner as Kumble?

Ashwin doesn’t really care for any of this. All he cares about is doing his best for India each time his captain throws him the ball. Not always will he pick up a five-for. But in each ball, there will be effort. Maximum effort that defines Ashwin and his craft. And more often than not, it is good enough to do the job for India. Only time will tell if it was enough in Ranchi. With 152 more to get and 10 wickets in hand, Ashwin and India would want to believe the five-for is indeed a match-winning spell. A just tribute to his passion, and an effort that he will perhaps dedicate to his mother. Well bowled, Ashwin.


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