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End of a dry spell

Bharat Sundaresan

Posted: Aug 27, 2012 at 1103 hrs IST
      

Hyderabad: All hell was breaking loose around chief curator Y L Chandrasekar. The sky carried a doomsday look. Almost like an alien invasion was in progress.

The rain was heavy, cataclysmal even, pouring down leaving ominous puddles all across the outfield.

Groundsmen from different corners of the ground scurried in from different pockets of the stadium trying their best to keep the blue-coloured covers in control against the gushing wind. Most failed, and the Uppal Stadium in addition to the pouring rain was now engulfed in what looked like manic and monstrous waves of a tsunami.

But Chandrasekar didn’t budge. Like a captain on a sinking ship, he stood firm barking out orders to his crew. His beloved pitch was to be kept secure from the inclement weather.

If only the New Zealand batsmen had shown half the gumption that the aging curator did. That is before the dark skies unleashed their wrath on the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on Saturday. By then the Kiwis had already been wiped out in their first essay for just 159. And following on, they had already lost opener Martin Guptill, and were 238 runs away from making India bat again.

The gloom in the air might have provided them with some respite and also robbed half of the third day’s play, providing them with lesser time to survive. But it also seemed symptomatic of the visitors’ plight in the first Test—probably even their present state in Test cricket.

And while the murkiness in the air provided the setting, the man responsible for the visitors’ woes on the field was once again Ravichandran Ashwin. And speaking of perseverance and patience the tall off-spinner from Tamil Nadu displayed it in plenty. Not that the Kiwi batsmen really made him work too hard for his scalps.

Late introduction

Strangely it was skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni who ensured that Ashwin had to endure a waiting game before getting to clasp the ball on Saturday. The cloud-cover may have swayed Dhoni towards opening with Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav.

But it was Pragyan Ojha who was given the first go among the spinners. It wasn’t before the 16th over of the day that Ashwin, who already had three cheap scalps in his kitty, was brought on.

It took him three balls to pick up his fourth, beating Jeetan Patel in the air and then diving forward—as athletically as he can with his generous girth— to hang onto a return catch. Two overs later, he had finished the tail off, having picked up his best Test figures of 6/31. A spell in which he had managed to instil morbid fear, or so it seemed, in the Kiwi batsmen. The same dread that another tall Indian spinner instilled in opposition batsmen for close to two decades on Indian wickets.

In the early days, especially in some Victorian aristocratic circles, spinners were described as followers of a black magic of evil. The Black Caps treated Ashwin not too dissimilarly.

The red-soiled Uppal wicket provided ample assistance to the spinners. Ashwin hardly faltered in his length, conceding just a single boundary— that too to a good delivery to Kane Williamson-and never letting the pressure slip off the Kiwis.

Oft-criticized for a predilection for utilising too many variations in his spells-what some believe led to his failure on the Australian wickets— Ashwin at Uppal showed impressive restraint. He only rarely opted for the floater or the carom-ball. One could argue that he didn’t need them against the confounded Black Caps.

But Ashwin is sure to take great pleasure in having picked up five of his wickets with the conventional off-break-some that bounced more than others. This performance should have cleared any self-doubts that might have crept up after Australia.

With 28 wickets in four Tests— including this one-at just 19.28 on home soil, Ashwin has already established himself as a menace for all visiting batsmen.

He even brought back memories of Kumble in the way he mopped up the tail. Almost to the extent that the Kiwis’ hopes in the first Test might well rest on how often Dhoni throws the ball to Ashwin on Sunday.

No matter how exceptional their collective survival instinct, it’s certain that their fate has already been categorically decided. Unless of course the rain Gods return to provide them more solace from their imminent misery.

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