R Ashwin: ‘I had to literally rewire and make a mental switch’

After returning just one wicket in the first innings, R Ashwin came roaring back in England’s second dig in Ranchi, with a five-wicket haul that saw the visitors bowled out for 145. Opening the bowling for just the second time this series, Ashwin dented England’s top order with the wickets of Ben Duckett, Ollie Pope and Joe Root and then came back to clean up the tail.

Ashwin said he had to make a ‘mental switch’ in his approach on the Ranchi surface, focussing more on getting the ball to spin with the pitch not offering as much bounce.

“So actually I had to go back and rewire the way I had to think about the game,” Ashwin told the host broadcaster after the third day. “I am someone who comes over the top, comes down on the ball. I like the ball to drop on the pitch.

“Somehow when I come to the eastern part of the country, I find that there is not enough bite out of the surface. The bounce is literally almost near the shin height, if I can say that.

“So I had to really go a lot of side spin. I had to hammer into the pitch for the first part of the spell,” Ashwin said. “And later from the other side, I felt like there was a little bit more purchase. I had to literally rewire and it was a mental switch I had to make.”

Ashwin did not use his trademark carrom ball for long periods, but eventually foxed Ben Foakes when he did bring it out, as the England keeper offered Ashwin a return catch off a leading edge.

“For some strange reason, my knee has been acting up. So it just takes me 10-12 balls to warm up. But I had a bit of warm up before getting in as well. So once I got my length right, that is when I wanted to really try it,” Ashwin said. “I didn’t want to give extra runs because we are chasing last. So every single run to chase is a big bonus.”

Ashwin also got to bowl with the new ball for just the second time this series, and sent back Duckett, Pope and Root in his first spell. He said that when captain Rohit Sharma said he and Ravindra Jadeja were to share the new ball, he was quick to volunteer to bowl the first over.

“I’ve enjoyed bowling with the new ball and today was one of those days where Rohit just said that both of you are starting, who wants to start? I put my hand up and said I’ll start the over from this side.

“Glad and yeah, the new ball has got some sort of an attachment. I enjoyed bowling with a little bit more speed. Loved it once again.”

Ashwin now has 170 wickets in 51 innings while opening the bowling, averaging 19.09.

Playing his 99th Test, Ashwin notched his 35th Test five-wicket haul – the joint-highest for India along with Anil Kumble. He also went past Kumble for the most wickets taken in India in Tests. But Ashwin said the personal milestones fade in comparison to a team victory.

“I mean you can pick all the wickets you want, you can perform all that you want, a team win is [like] nothing [else]. I mean it’s the best thing that can happen to a cricketer. To in a Test match at the end of 4-5 days, the feeling is surreal. I would like to have that feeling tomorrow and Ro [Rohit] and [Yashasvi] Jaiswal have started really well, so hopefully they can carry on from here.”

Ashwin didn’t have a five-wicket haul throughout this series before today, but delivered probably when India needed him the most, having conceded a 46-run first-innings lead to England and staring at the possibility of a steep chase. But in the absence of Jasprit Bumrah, who has arguably been India’s most influential bowler this series, Ashwin’s efforts helped keep their target under 200.

Rohit and Jaiswal, the India openers, took the hosts to 40 for no loss at the close of play on the third day, leaving the team 152 away from sealing the series.

Ashwin: Kuldeep changing up his pace and trajectory makes him double the bowler

Before Ashwin could impact the game, India were in a much deeper hole at 177 for 7 in response to England’s first innings score of 353. But a 76-run stand between Dhruv Jurel and Kuldeep Yadav helped India significantly cut down the deficit. While Kuldeep batted out 131 deliveries, Jurel made 90 in just his second Test innings to take India to 307.

“I thought we were a little harsh on KD [Kuldeep], got him to bat a little too early than what he would have desired but I felt his defense was gun, he was showing a lot of composure, kept the dressing room very calm,” Ashwin said.

“It was even better from Dhruv, I thought,” Ashwin said about Jurel. “Great composure for somebody just playing a second test match. Tight in defence, had a great game plan, wasn’t going bonkers. Picked the right ball to hit. And yeah, that was a huge lift. We batted through till lunch, almost getting on par.

“If you had given us even 70-80 runs ahead last night when we went back to the hotel, you would have taken it with both hands.”

While Ashwin finished with a five-for, Kuldeep was also running hot with the ball. Introduced in the 25th over, Kuldeep castled Zak Crawley for 60 with the first ball of his third over. He then went on to clean up Ben Stokes before dismissing Tom Hartley and Ollie Robinson in one over.

“Yeah, it was phenomenal. I thought Kuldeep bowled brilliantly,” Ashwin said. “But what I really loved about what Kuldeep did today was the way he was working on his run-up, changing the momentum and all that sort of stuff.

“We all know how much revs he can put on the ball, what skill he’s got. But when you can change up the pace like that, change the trajectory, which he’s willing to do now, I think he’s double the bowler that he is.

“Really happy for him. I just stole the five-for away from him. But that’s how the game goes.”

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