R Ashwin devasted the Australians in second innings
R Ashwin devasted the Australians in second innings

Ravichandran Ashwin’s 25th five-wicket haul was the cornerstone of India’s remarkable turnaround as the hosts defeated Australia by 75 runs in the second cricket Test to level the four-match series 1-1 here. Defending a competitive target of 188 with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on line, Ashwin was unplayable on a tricky pitch on a fourth-day surface with magnificent figures of 6 for 41. Australia ended up decimated for 112 in only 35.4 overs.

Just like Indian wickets fell like nine pins in Pune, Australia, too, crumbled like a house of cards and lost the last six for a mere 11 runs between overs 26th and 36th. With their backs firmly against the wall, it was a battle of attrition for Kohli and his boys after their humiliating loss in Pune.

It turned out to be a collective effort in the end with KL Rahul (90 and 51), Cheteshwar Pujara (92) and Ajinkya Rahane (52) doing their bit with the bat. Not to forget an invaluable 20 runs from Wriddhiman Saha.  After a bad run in Pune, spin twins Ashwin (8 wickets) and Ravindra Jadeja (7 wickets) accounted for 15 out of the 20 wickets.

The pitch, which deteriorated with each passing moment, made the target of 188 look as big as 350. Only skipper Steve Smith (28) and Peter Handscomb (24) were the only batsmen to cross the 20-run mark for Australia. Till the 10th over of the chase, things looked good for Australia as they were 42 for 1, losing only Matt Renshaw (5), who got an unplayable delivery from Ishant Sharma.

David Warner (17) got a leg before decision off Ashwin’s bowling going against him. Warner reviewed it unsuccessfully. Umesh Yadav (2/30 in 9 overs) then produced the double break with Shaun Marsh (9) getting one to come back after hitting one of those ever widening cracks. Smith got a shooter that didn’t even rise enough hitting him on the boot.

It was plumb and Smith, trying to get a clue from the dressing room beyond his 15-second time, got into a brief altercation with rival captain Kohli. Mitchell Marsh (13) and Peter Handscomb (24) added 27 runs and tried to stem the rot during their fifth wicket partnership.

This was the time when Ashwin, coming for his second spell, ran riot dismissing Marsh, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc in quick succession.

Once it was 103 for 7, the game was all over for Australia. The third Test will be played in Ranchi from March 16.

Australia’s batting currently stands on two strong pillars Steven Smith and David Warner. Even though the pitches for the first two Tests were not batting-friendly, Smith has already managed to leave an indelible impression on the series. Warner, on the other hand, has looked good only in parts. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that his opening partner Matt Renshaw is a more valuable wicket if there is a lot in the pitch for the spinners.

In these conditions, R Ashwin has had a wood on Warner, who has managed only 116 runs at an average of 23.20 against him and has already been dismissed five times. The stats for this series are even worse 37 runs for three dismissals. The worrying bit is not Ashwin’s domination over Warner, but the modes of dismissals as there is a clear pattern developing of him getting either bowled or lbw.

To harbour thoughts of succeeding against Ashwin on Indian pitches, one needs to have a fairly solid defensive game, a couple of shots to rotate the strike and a couple of go-to shots to collect boundaries. It is worth examining what Ashwin has tried to do and how Warner has responded.

If you were to look at the pitch maps and the beehives for Ashwin’s deliveries to Warner in this series, you will find that, barring the first innings in Pune the only one in the series in which Warner was not dismissed by Ashwin there was nothing that pitched away from the off stump and offered any width. Since that first innings, Ashwin’s plan against Warner has been quite evident. Whenever he went around the stumps, he pitched it either within the stumps or slightly outside off, but made sure that every ball finished no wider than the fourth stump. The moment he went over the stumps, he pitched everything outside leg. While the lines have changed a little, the length has been consistent never short enough to allow Warner to play off the back foot.

Warner’s short stature does not allow him to go forward enough to smother the spin, and his tendency to play besides the pad brings about his downfall often. That is why, after getting dismissed lbw in Pune, Warner started standing on the off stump to plant his front-foot outside the line of off, which worked to a certain extent. When Ashwin chose to bowl over the stumps, however, into the rough outside Warner’s leg stump in the first innings, the batsman did not have a clue. Ideally, if the ball has pitched outside leg, one should avoid playing any defensive shot off the front-foot, as kicking is the best defensive option. But it was evident that Warner has not been exposed to that line too often, for he kept planting his front-foot outside leg to open up and defend with the bat. It was only a matter of time before he missed the line, which he did and was castled. Warner’s defensive game has been susceptible against the ball turning away from him, and that allowed Ashwin to explore multiple options to dismiss him.

Ravindra Jadeja is in top form
Ravindra Jadeja is in top form

Now, Ravindra Jadeja has climbed one place to join R Ashwin at No.1 in the ICC rankings for Test bowlers in what is the first instance of two spinners jointly claiming the top spot. Jadeja’s seven wickets, including a first-innings six-for, in the second Test against Australia helped him occupy the top rank and assured India the No.1 spot in the ICC Test Team rankings for the annual April 1 cut-off.

He shares the top spot with Ashwin, whose eight-wicket haul took him past Bishan Bedi as the fifth-highest wicket-taker for India in Tests with 269 scalps. However, Ashwin’s poor returns with the bat 20 in the last four innings meant he has dropped behind Shakib Al Hasan on the list of Test allrounders.

The last time two bowlers shared the No.1 rank was in April 2008, when Dale Steyn and Muttiah Muralitharan were at 897 points. Jadeja and Ashwin are currently at 892 points each, and lead Australia’s Josh Hazlewood at No. 3 by 29 points.

In the rankings for Test batsmen, Virat Kohli lost his second spot to Joe Root after managing only 40 in his last two Tests. Steven Smith maintained his reign at the top for the 77th Test, edging past Ricky Ponting’s 76 matches as the third longest stint at the top among Australians after Steve Waugh (94) and Don Bradman (93).