Ravichandran Ashwin has had to take the rough with the smooth in an emerging Test career that has already witnessed dramatic fortune swings.
He has been destructive at home — the off-spinner scalped 22 batsmen in the three Test series against the West Indies last season — but found the going hard in Australia.
In the days ahead, Ashwin will face stiffer challenges than this New Zealand line-up but would have relished leading the Indian team back to the dressing room after a stunning haul of six for 31 in the Kiwi first innings in Hyderabad.
Bundled out for 159 and following on 279 runs behind, New Zealand was 41 for one in its second innings when rain ended play at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium on Saturday, the third day of the first Test between India and New Zealand.
In all, inclement weather cut short the day’s play by 198 minutes; the match commenced one hour late and then thundershowers after tea led to play being called off at 2.55 p.m. More showers have been forecast for the next two days and India might have to beat the weather as well.
Not a minefield
The surface offered purchase to the spinners but was not a minefield. The New Zealand batting lacked the technique, the application and the mental attributes to survive the pressures of the spinning ball and a packed close-in cordon.
This said it was intriguing why Ashwin, India’s most impressive bowler on Friday, was brought on as late as in the 16th over of the day.
Once given the ball, Ashwin did not waste much time. He took a sharp, low return catch to his left after luring Jeetan Patel, had Trent Boult snaffled up at short-leg with an off-break and bowled Chris Martin with his next one, a quicker delivery that spun in. He had polished off the New Zealand tail in three overs.
The Tamil Nadu bowler was on a hat-trick when the Kiwis batted again but was introduced only in the 17th over. Brendon McCullum survived the hat-trick ball.
Ashwin does not possess a classical off-spinner’s action. He is rather square-on in release and this prevents him from pivoting effectively to get more out of his action.
He, however, attempts to compensate for these shortcomings with his strong fingers and the variations he has developed. Ashwin has also worked on his stock-ball — the off-spinner.
Operating with control
With the two short-legs waiting, the 25-year-old Ashwin consistently spun the ball into the right-hander from the off-stump. There was help from the surface for Ashwin but he operated with control and hit the right areas.
Delivering from a high-arm action, the lanky bowler also managed to extract bounce. It was the combination of bounce and turn that harried the New Zealand batsmen.
Ashwin used the carrom ball and the one that comes in with the arm as variations. In the past, Ashwin has overdone the carrom ball and become predictable since competent batsmen learn to pick it up; the carrom ball is seldom flighted and that is a give-away.
Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha supported Ashwin capably. He relied on flight and spun the ball away from the right-hander but needs to work on his armer.
The left-armer broke a stubborn opening partnership in the second innings when Guptill padded up to a tossed up delivery that drifted in. He was struck in front of off stump but the delivery appeared to be spinning away. The Kiwi could have received the benefit of the doubt.
A catch dropped
Ojha, though, could have nailed Guptill (on 15) in his previous over when he got the right-hander to edge an away-spinner but Virat Kohli, at second slip, grassed the catch.
Among the Indian pacemen, Zaheer Khan, a rhythm bowler, struggled to find that harmony between mind and body.
Umesh Yadav generated speeds in excess of 140 kmph and operated with a fair measure of control. He might have been fortunate though to win a leg-before verdict against CFK van Wyk in the morning. The Kiwi wicketkeeper-batsman missed a pull and was struck rather high on the pad.
For New Zealand, the normally aggressive James Franklin put mind over matter to remain unbeaten with a 122-ball 43. The left-hander picked the length well and was decisive in his feet movement.
The frontline Kiwi batsmen have been less convincing so far.
Play is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. (IST) on Sunday.
India — 1st innings: 438.
New Zealand — 1st innings: B. McCullum c Kohli b Ojha 22 (27b, 3x4), M. Guptill c Kohli b Ashwin 2 (25b), K. Williamson c Sehwag b Ojha 32 (92b, 3x4), R. Taylor c Kohli b Ashwin 2 (14b), D. Flynn lbw b Ashwin 16 (13b, 2x4), J. Franklin (not out) 43 (122b, 1x4, 1x6), K. van Wyk lbw b Yadav 0 (14b), D. Bracewell st Dhoni b Ojha 17 (25b, 2x4), J. Patel c & b Ashwin 10 (21b, 1x4), T. Boult c Gambhir b Ashwin 4 (15b, 1x4), C. Martin b Ashwin 0 (1b); Extras (b-4, lb-7): 11; Total (in 61.3 overs): 159.
Fall of wickets: 1-25 (McCullum), 2-29 (Guptill), 3-35 (Taylor), 4-55 (Flynn), 5-99 (Williamson), 6-111 (van Wyk), 7-141 (Bracewell), 8-153 (Patel), 9-159 (Boult).
India bowling: Zaheer 11-4-33-0, Yadav 8-0-24-1, Ojha 21-6-44-3, Ashwin 16.3-5-31-6, Sehwag 2-0-4-0, Raina 2-0-6-0, Tendulkar 1-0-6-0.
New Zealand — 2nd innings: M. Guptill lbw b Ojha 16 (38b, 3x4), B. McCullum (batting) 16 (59b, 1x4), K. Willamson (batting) 3 (11b); Extras (lb-6): 6; Total (for one wkt in 18 overs): 41.
Fall of wicket: 1-26 (Guptill).
India bowling: Ojha 9-4-13-1, Zaheer 5-2-4-0, Yadav 3-0-13-0, Ashwin 1-0-5-0.