Ash wins!

Ashwin... bamboozling the Kiwis.-K.R. DEEPAK

The Indians made the right moves at Uppal in the first Test against New Zealand. And Ashwin, the Man of the Match, was the toast, writes S. Dinakar.

The ball turned and bounced. The close-in cordon surrounded the bat and the Kiwis were clueless. Spin was King. And Ravichandran Ashwin once again proved that spinners were winners in these conditions. Simply put, the New Zealanders were bamboozled in the first Test in Hyderabad.

Ashwin’s figures of 12 for 85 in the Test are the best by an Indian bowler against New Zealand. Kiwi skipper Ross Taylor conceded after the innings and 115-run defeat, “We have to find a way to play Ashwin.” The 25-year-old Chennai off-spinner’s six-for in each innings ensured the match, despite rain cutting into play, concluded inside four days.

Ashwin’s record in India is a rather formidable one. He has 34 wickets in only four Tests at 17.32. This includes his 22 scalps against the West Indies in three matches last season. While stiffer Tests await him against stronger opposition, Ashwin cannot be faulted for being destructive in home Tests, whatever be the opposition.

He did struggle against Australia in the Test series down under and there are areas in his bowling where he needs to focus. But then, Ashwin, an intelligent cricketer, is in a position to build on the momentum achieved so early in his career. While a square-on bowling action that prevents him from pivoting effectively will be held against him, Ashwin has made good use of his strong spinning fingers and employed his variations judiciously.

There was purchase for the spinners on the surface at Uppal. Ashwin, with a strong leg-side cordon in place, got his off-spinners to turn from either the off or the middle stump. And Ashwin harnessed his height and high-arm action to extract bounce. The tentative Kiwi batsmen, unable to gauge the length and play with soft hands, struggled to keep the ball down. Ashwin used the carrom ball, the one that comes in with the arm and the top-spinner with intelligence. Apart from Kane Williamson, James Franklin and, to an extent, Brendon McCullum, the Kiwis floundered against Ashwin. They were unable to pick his deliveries.

Ashwin received worthy support from left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha from the other end. Ojha troubled the right-handers with flight, drift and away spin. The delivery that found the edge of Williamson’s blade on day four — the batsman was held at slip — was a peach. Ashwin and Ojha, a spin bowling pair of contrasts, have become a potent force at home. In four Tests, they have together dismissed an astonishing 60 batsmen.

The Indian spinners also were lifted by some sharp catching by the fielders around the bat. Virat Kohli was alert while Virender Sehwag was outstanding in the slips.There were concerns about India struggling to find the right slip-catchers following the departure of giants Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman, but Sehwag displayed anticipation and stunning reflexes. The Indians made the right moves at Uppal. And Ashwin, the Man of the Match, was the toast.