CENTURION – An Indian spinner dominating on day one of a Test on the highveld is a rare thing.
When that spinner is Ravichandran Ashwin, whose last Test in these parts ended in self-doubt and being dropped, it is a case of cricket going full circle.
On a topsy-turvy first day of the second Test at Centurion on Saturday, it was Ashwin who starred for the tourists, as South Africa limped badly to the close, ending on 269/6.
“The one thing I have comfortably done is conveniently forget the history about South Africa,” Ashwin said of his last trip here.
“I am well over it and I want to put it behind me and stride ahead forward.”
Of course, history doesn’t forget, and it is often used as a barometer for progress.
On the evidence of Saturday at Centurion, Ashwin has exorcised the demons of The Wanderers, no doubt helped by the dominance he had over South Africa when they went to India in 2015.
“I think I have won that respect from them, with how I have done against them since that last trip.
“I also think that cricketers react to the situation, and they play me differently now because I have had some success against several of their batsmen,” he pointed out.
Ashwin’s figures of 3/90 in 31 probing overs spoke of a confidence and an appreciation of what he had to do on South African tracks.
“The 2013-14 tour was a reality check in terms of not being able to win a Test match for the country on day five, when all things were actually set up for a spinner,” he said of his previously chastening experience.
Ashwin is a proud bowler, and the helplessness he suffered that day hurt him deeply. He went to county cricket, and worked tirelessly on learning to bowl well in conditions that didn’t offer assistance.
“It was kind of hit on my professional pride and from there on I knew I had to work on certain things,” he explained.
Where he was a casualty in 2014, he was a catalyst in 2018. He spun it, bounced it, looped it and toyed with all of South Africa’s batsmen, revelling in a pitch that played into his hands more than anyone could have anticipated.
The Proteas, through Aiden Markram, praised the off-spinner.
“We didn’t expect there to be so much assistance for him. He was difficult to face, he is difficult to face on a flat wicket as well, so it did work out well for him I suppose,” Markram conceded.
“He still had to bowl well, so you need to give him some credit. It will be interesting to see if the pitch will get harder and if it will continue to spin like it did, or if it spun like that because of the grass covering. We’ll see in the next couple of days,” he added.
Markram himself winced at falling so close to a dream century on his home ground, falling to Ashwin for 94.
“I was massively disappointed. In the end, it was a bit of a nothing shot, and I am still not over it just yet,” he sighed.
Markram did reveal that there was a quiet word from Virat Kohli, as the Proteas’ opener left the field.
“He came across and said, ‘Well played, you were unlucky to get out.’ It was a great touch from him.
“He is a massive competitor as everyone sees on the TV, but it’s great to see that he has got good values that people off the field might not see. It was a great gesture and it meant a lot.”