The surface for the second Test has been to the liking of spinners from the first day, and it is to nobody’s surprise that the star off-spinner from Chennai took his 29th five-wicket haul in Test cricket on Sunday. (SCORECARD)
All the qualities that Ashwin possesses as an off-spinner — drift, dip, sharp turn and subtle variations — were very much on show. In the process, he also achieved two important landmarks.
He became the first bowler ever to take 200 wickets against left-handers and also surpassed Harbhajan Singh’s tally of 265 wickets in India. The 34-year-old now has 268 scalps in India and only Anil Kumble — with 350 wickets — sits ahead of him.
Ashwin is a self-confessed cricket nerd and knows his stats like the back of his hand, but he was surprisingly unaware about overtaking Harbhajan.
“Sorry, Bhajju pa,” Ashwin said apologetically.
He then went on to recollect his first memories of his former teammate and how he seemed a million miles away from even becoming an off-spinner at that stage.
“When I was watching the 2001 series between India and Australia, I didn’t even imagine I would go on to become an off-spinner for India. I was still a batsman for my state. I was trying to accelerate a career towards batting and playing for the country,” Ashwin told reporters on Sunday.
“A lot of my teammates from back then used to make fun of me because I used to try to bowl like him (emulate his action). From thereon, to break his tally has to be incredibly special.”
On day two, Ashwin yet again showed why he is so good against left-handers. His dismissal of Ben Stokes — drift and spin to castle the all-rounder’s off stump — is the kind of ball that he has routinely delivered to claim some prominent victims, which include the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Alastair Cook and David Warner.
Ashwin conceded that off-spinners have an edge against left-handers since the ball is turning away from them, but records suggest that nobody has been as effective.
“Obviously, the ball turning away from left-handers is one very big advantage when it comes to off-spinners. Over the years, the left-handers have received a lot of bowling from me around the wicket. One thing I have learnt and started doing a lot more is varying the seam position, using the crease and creating different angles,” said Ashwin.
Before the England series, Ashwin had insisted that the 400-wicket mark is not on his mind. He is on 391 now and taking nine in the second innings to get to the mark on his home ground may be beyond his reach, but it seems all but certain that the next Test in Ahmedabad will see him accomplish another important landmark.