R Ashwin: ‘I was ready for the fight’ despite the massive odds

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Ashwin batted 128 balls in partnership with Hanuma Vihari to script one of India’s great rearguards

Despite four Test centuries to his name, R Ashwin, who returned battered and bruised from the barrage of short-pitched bowling at the SCG on Monday to help India draw the third Test, said his undefeated 128-ball 39 was one of his best batting efforts in what was a “fantastic” result for India, even if his desire was to hit the winning runs.

Ashwin said India were “relieved” after the great escape – earned with a lot of grit an determination – and talked up the mood in the dressing room. “The atmosphere in the dressing room is absolutely electric, everyone is relieved to a certain extent,” Ashwin told Fox Sports after the match. “At the same time, we are so very happy, I haven’t seen such smiles in a long time. Yes, the last game [Melbourne] was a lovely win, but I think this draw… in Test cricket you don’t get a lot of lovely draws and this was one of those fantastic draws.”

The day started with India, chasing 407 to go 1-0 up in the series, at 98 for 2, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane in the middle. Rahane didn’t last too long, but Pujara battled for 205 balls in scoring 77, Rishabh Pant walked in at No. 5 and smashed 97 in 118 balls, and then it was over to Hanuma Vihari and Ashwin, who batted through the entire final session to clinch the draw when an Australian win looked the likeliest outcome. India batted 131 overs in the fourth innings – the most for them in the final innings since 1979, when they drew The Oval Test ending nine runs short of the target of 438.

What was even more remarkable is that Pant batted with an arm injury , Ravindra Jadeja was unlikely to bat because of a fractured thumb, and Vihari wasn’t able to run because of a right hamstring injury.

‘Ready for the fight’

Australia’s seamers attacked Ashwin relentlessly with short-pitched deliveries aimed at the body. At one point, Ashwin nearly doubled over after being hit in the ribs by a Pat Cummins’ delivery. Yet, he ploughed on.

“They bowled some amazing lengths and lines, Nathan Lyon was there or thereabouts, it was a very exciting session to play out,” Ashwin said. “I just went to Pujara and said, ‘you just sold me out on both the innings’, because I felt Cummins was bowling in a different league altogether, especially when he sensed the tail was coming through, he just goes one gear higher.

“It was pretty difficult to counter because I think the pitch started to slow down, there was a bit of double bounce, so it was not that easy to get down underneath his back-of-length bouncers… it was quite the deal but once you got through those 20-30 balls I was ready for the fight.”

All the while, Ashwin was battling not just the Australians – the bowling and a lot of chirping – but also a “tweak” in his back that had left him in “unbelievable pain”, as his wife Prithi gave away on Twitter. Ashwin was seen standing and stretching in the dressing room balcony throughout the afternoon before coming out to bat.

“For me, personally, that innings is very, very important because I haven’t got a lot of scores in the last 18 months or so but I’ve been batting well in the nets, even batted well in the first innings, so it was quite pleasing to get that knock,” he said.

More to follow…

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo

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