TELFORD VICE, Mohali
AB versus Ashwin. It is as simplistic to distill SA’s tour to India down to that duel as it is to ignore the fact that such contests within the uber contest of the game itself is what gives cricket its magic.
Going into the first test in Mohali, Ravichandran Ashwin was 2-0 up having dismissed AB de Villiers in both Twenty20s. Then Ashwin was injured in the first one-day international and their personal battle was put on hold as De Villiers conjured three brilliant centuries in five innings.
But hostilities resumed in Mohali.
“I was bowling the same attacking lengths to him in the T20s, and I thought I could have had him many times in the spell I bowled to him (on Friday),” Ashwin said. Ah, bowlers – what can you do?
De Villiers faced 13 of Ashwin’s deliveries before he moonwalked deep into his crease to make a short delivery even shorter and drove it to long-on for a single.
In all, he would take 21 runs off the 33 balls the off-spinner bowled to him, including a pair of fours reverse swept and drilled off the back foot and through the covers.
Twice, Ashwin leapt and bellowed appeals for De Villiers’ wicket. Twice, he was denied.
“I thought I had him once but, anyway, that’s how the game goes,” Ashwin said.
De Villiers was seven not out when he edged a delivery from left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja onto wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha’s gloves and into the hands of Virat Kohli darting across from second slip like a scrumhalf.
The South African had walked almost all the way to the boundary when he stopped and waited for the umpires to check the delivery’s legality.
And a good thing he did, too, because it emerged that Jadeja had indeed failed to land any part of his boot behind the bowling crease.
Even in this Ashwin and De Villiers are tangled together. On Thursday, Ashwin was trapped in front by Kagiso Rabada but survived when replays showed the fast bowler had overstepped.
“After someone’s dead he’s come back,” was how Ashwin described the feeling.
De Villiers made his reprieve count, scoring 63 in easily the best performance in the visitors’ unhappy total of 184.
That he fell to leg-spinner Amit Mishra, who sped a delivery past his outside edge and nailed his off-stump, will only make the flames of the fire he is stoking with Ashwin burn brighter.
“It’s big pressure on a spinner when he sees somebody else taking wickets and turning the ball,” SA spin consultant Claude Henderson said. “Now you feel, ‘I’ve got to go and do it’. And that creates pressure.”
Henderson wasn’t talking about Ashwin, who will be satisfied with his five-wicket haul. But Ashwin wouldn’t be human if he didn’t want De Villiers’ arrow in his test quiver.
Doubtless, he will get the chance to put it there; perhaps in the second innings in Mohali, perhaps in Bangalore, perhaps beyond that.
Many more words could be spent on this ongoing prize fight, for which we should get ready to rumble. But only two are relevant: aluta continua.