Labuschagne: Facing Ashwin felt like playing a chess game

Ashwin picked up 12 wickets in three Tests during the last Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia. He now has 430 Test wickets and is five shy of surpassing Kapil Dev's tally.

Ravichandran Ashwin and Marnus Labuschagne

India's Ravichandran Ashwin (L) and Marnus Labuschagne of Australia during a Test match at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on January 7, 2021.   -  AFP

World No. 1 Test batter Marnus Labuschagne has said he relishes his duels with India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and termed him as a 'great thinker of the game'.

"He is very good at assessing batsmen, and that's why I have enjoyed facing him," Labuschagne told Sportstar.

Ashwin picked up 12 wickets in three Tests during the last Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia. He now has 430 Test wickets and is five shy of surpassing Kapil Dev's tally.

In a recent interview with The Cricket Monthly, Ashwin spoke about how he picked up certain cues from whenever Labuschagne was batting. "He steps out, he hits the ball over cow corner for an offspinner, or he hits it over mid-off. It's very rarely through long-on. And he doesn't have a flat sweep, he has a lap sweep, like a paddle. All these shots have a trigger. And it's very fine. If you don't know or if you've not seen enough footage, you cannot pick these things up," Ashwin had said.

In this brand new series where we revisit some of India's most cherished cricketing victories, we start at the country's first win in Test cricket history. Coimbatorao Doraikannu Gopinath is the only surviving member of that Indian side and sat down for a freewheeling chat with Ayan Acharya.

 

Recalling his face-offs with Ashwin from the four-match Test series on the 2020-21 tour, Labuschagne said: "He has picked up some things I do when I play certain shots. That's why I love these four-five match series because you cannot be satisfied with what you've got as a batter, otherwise you will be found out by quality bowlers. You've to keep adapting.

"What I loved most about Ashwin was the fields he had for me and how I was trying to move the field in my endeavour to score runs. Just the way both of us were able to chop and change in the middle of an engrossing passage. It almost felt like a chess game. He bowled beautifully in Melbourne... got a few early wickets with the leg slip.

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"Smith and I played him well in Sydney. We've got a few subcontinent tours before my next trip to India, and hopefully, I can challenge myself in those conditions. I have a few tricks up my sleeve (smiles)!"

Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah's leg traps got the better of Australia's best batters multiple times during that Test series. The leg slip or leg gully had accounted for at least one dismissal of Steven Smith and Labuschagne. However, both batters scored freely in Sydney, with Smith even getting a first-innings hundred and Labuschagne falling short of one by nine runs. Labuschagne attributed the turnaround to the change of venue and conditions. "In Sydney, the wicket was better, you could trust the bounce and play those leg-side shots... it wasn't so much a tactical change from Melbourne to Sydney as the conditions got better for batting and we were able to bat freely on the on side," he said.

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"We started in Adelaide and it was quite hard to score over there because of the pink ball and the wicket had variable bounce. Melbourne had a little bit of grass and I got 48 off 150 (132) before being caught at backward square.

"In the second innings, Ashwin got me out at first slip - from round the wicket, he bowled the undercutter... what you need to remember is certain shots are just harder to play in certain conditions... I can have a plan to negotiate the fields but sometimes you are undone by the venue."

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