Ashwin’s spin magic behind India’s series win

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By Kersi Meher-Homji

As Australians were obsessed with the inaugural day-night pink ball Test in Adelaide, India’s off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin was slicing through South Africa’s strong batting line up in Nagpur.

He captured 7 for 66 in the second innings and 12 for 98 in the Test as India defeated South Africa (S.Af) by 124 runs. By this victory India won the inaugural Gandhi-Mandella Trophy 2-0. The final Test in Delhi is due to commence on 3 December but even if S.Af wins it India will still pocket the series 2-1.

However, the way the demoralized visitors are batting on spinners’ paradise it appears India will triumph 3-0.

This is the first time in nine years that S.Af have lost a Test series overseas, the last time was in Sri Lanka in 2006.

India won both the first and the third Tests in three days each, proclaiming their overwhelming superiority. The second Test in Bangalore was abandoned as heavy rains stopped play on the last four days.

Still India was ahead in that Test. After dismissing S.Af for 214, India was 0 for 80 before rain forced the abandonment.

Now to the Nagpur Test which ended in three days on Friday. Thanks to a 50 run stand by their openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, India reached a total of 215, the highest in the series dominated by bowlers.

South Africa was bundled out for 79, their lowest score ever, ace spinners Ashwin taking 5 for 32 and Ravindra Jadeja 4 for 33.

India also struggled and was spun out for 173, leg-spinner Imran Tahir capturing 5 for 38.

Set 310 to win on a turner, S.Af was bowled out for 185 despite a gallant stand of 72 for the fifth wicket by skipper Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis. But Ashwin was once again unplayable as he took 7 for 66 and India won by 124 runs.

Ashwin was the undisputed Man of the Match.

It has been a low-scoring series so far as 1912 was the last time South African batsmen have averaged worse in a series involving three or more Tests. Their average on this tour of India has been a poor 14.32, with only two fifties from 55 innings. However, they had averaged 11.30 in three Tests against England 103 years ago. Overall, batsmen from both teams have averaged only 16.90, which is the third lowest in any series involving three or more Tests.

India’s captain Virat Kohli was delighted with the result. He defended India’s policy to prepare pitches which helped spin bowlers at the presentation ceremony. He said he had no problem with pitches like the one in Nagpur, calling them preferable to flat decks that produced 500-plus totals.

“It is not a policy [to play on such pitches], it is the conditions that you get in India. Otherwise you will just play Test matches [in] which [you] will get you 500 runs in an innings. You don’t create bowlers like that, you don’t win Test matches like that. The key is to win Test matches.

“I have said this before, wherever you go to play in the world, you’ve got to be prepared to face those conditions and tune your game accordingly. Today was a classic example of two guys [Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis] applying themselves and showing that it can be done. I don’t know why there is so much hype created around the issue.

“South Africa hadn’t lost in nine years and it is very hard to maintain that sort of record. Credit to them, they have not lost an away series for nine years but I would give credit to our boys for putting equal amount of pressure in the course of these three Test matches and actually win the series. I don’t see anything more or less to it.”

The final Test starts in Delhi next Thursday. I can hardly wait, can you?

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