AUSTRALIA TOUR OF INDIA, 2023
Versatility in the forefront of India’s spin success in Nagpur
R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, along with Axar Patel, completed what now looks like a customary day out in the park having rolled over yet another team, this time Australia in just a session, in home conditions.
The pitch at Nagpur had earned a lot of hype before the match for its preparation and dry patches outside the left-hander’s off stump, a factor that eventually had little role to play directly on the field. How it played, however, was quite contrary to what had been imagined. It was a turner, there were rough patches developing outside the offstump for a left-hander on one end, and there was low bounce on the track for the pacers.
However, as was evident in India’s batting and briefly over Australia’s batting innings, there was method to play on it which included factors such as playing from the crease, on the backfoot and playing late. Rohit Sharma, Jadeja, Axar, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith all used these aspects in different concoctions to each find a way to spend time at the crease and score runs, harking back to age-old techniques in Test cricket.
But it wasn’t just the batters that were forced to adapt on this pitch, it required a change of tact from the spinners as well. Nathan Lyon for one ditched his trademark lines outside the offstump and over the wicket, to go round the stumps and try to exploit straighter lines, with little success however. Each time he overpitched from that angle, there were runs to be taken which Rohit took full toll of while getting his 120. Debutant Todd Murphy, a different kind of offspinner than Lyon, however, was able to find more success with a more natural line and pace for the surface, albeit without the consistency of more seasoned campaigners.
The ability of India’s spinners to adapt to these conditions and find success at the rate they did proved to be one of the biggest differences between the two sides.
Ashwin, after collecting his five-fer, briefly alluded to the changes he’d made vis a vis getting the batters to drive more, so that the edges come into play. It was exactly how he’d got Usman Khawaja, edging the second cover drive he attempted, and was unafraid to do so even when he was hit for back-to-back boundaries by David Warner.
It was one of the few indicators of India’s experienced spinners taking a different route but still finding their same destination. Ravindra Jadeja never attempted an over the wicket line to the left-handers, instead operating on the straighter lines from round the wicket to keep the LBW in play and it worked wonders for him right through. The demons of the rough outside off were partly negated because India’s Plan A was to attack the stumps more than trying for catches close-in on a slow pitch.
With that being the case, Australia’s collapse left even Rohit a little surprised. “I thought the pitch was good. We were prepared to have a hard day of bowling and spending time on the field session after session. We never thought they would be bowled out in a session. Because as you saw, the pitch became slower and slower. There was not much bounce in the pitch, so it was a bit of surprise for me, yes,” he said in the press conference after the game.
But what didn’t surprise him was that India’s spinners were able to adapt to what was on offer at Nagpur. “It’s like captaining Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc in Australia,” he said when asked how it was to captain this spin trio at his disposal. “Pretty similar, because when you have the quality of Jadeja, Axar and Ash, you know having grown up playing cricket in India for so many years, growing up playing on pitches like these it’s always a blessing.
“The conditions are there, yes, but you’ve got to come out and extract those conditions because the conditions are there for both teams. Because whichever team we play, the conditions are there for everyone. But to come out and extract something from the pitch is what makes them really, really special. They’ve played on pitches like this a lot so they know exactly what to do, which areas to hit and how to keep applying that pressure.”
Furthermore, he added that his concentration was on not allowing Australia any leeway. “When I was playing as a player and Virat was captain I noticed one thing – no matter what, even when we don’t get a wicket, that pressure has to be there so that the opposition makes a mistake. That is something I learnt when Virat was captaining and when these guys were bowling. That is what I’m trying to do now, just apply the pressure.
“Don’t get too excited about the wicket, that it’s going to come every ball. It’s not going to come like that. If it happens, nothing like it. But we’ve got to expect that it is not going to happen every ball. Just got to keep at it, keep putting the ball in the right areas and let the pitch help you”
With more tongue in cheek, India’s skipper also said that the toughest part of his job was to use the spinners at the right time. “It’s a little tough, because they’re all reaching their milestones. Jadeja is on 249 wickets, he was telling me ‘mereko ball de’ [give me the ball]. Ashwin was on four wickets, closer to five and he was saying ‘I want to bowl yaar’. So that is a challenge I’m facing with these guys because I really don’t know too much about the milestones but these guys are quite aware of it. So that’s the challenge of captaining them rather than giving them which end.
“All the guys are quality, and again whichever end is more helpful, all the spinners want to bowl from that end, that’s obvious. The pressure is always on me to find the right end for the right one. It’s a challenge but I try and play a little bit of match-up game as well, match-up as in Ash has a good match-up against left-handers. Not that he can’t get right-handers out but he has a great match-up against left-handers, Ravindra Jadeja and Axar have unbelievable match-up against right-handers. So I try and keep these in mind while I try to rotate them,” he said.
On a more serious note, Rohit also hit upon the reason on how someone like Ashwin found the success he’s had over the years. Alongside crediting his skillset and variations, Rohit touched upon the versatility factor embodied by Ashwin.
“If you see him he gets better and better every time. [pause] He looks a different bowler, I won’t say improved bowler because he’s always been good. But he looks like a different bowler every time he plays Test cricket, that’s what good cricketers do. They try to up their game and try to reach the next level.