Ahead of the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2023 starting from Nagpur on Thursday, former Indian fielding coach R Sridhar recounted a sequence during the 2017 edition of the marquee series where ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin outclassed Australia opener David Warner in the second Test at Bengaluru.
“We had lost the first Test in Pune by a wide margin and were under the pump in the next game in Bengaluru. We were bowled out for 189 on day one and Australia had got off to an excellent start, 40 without loss, with David Warner looking in ominously good touch.”
“As we were headed for our rooms that evening, Ashwin suddenly got this idea of going over the stumps to Warner to exploit the rough outside his leg stump and bowl him round his legs,” wrote Sridhar in his book ‘Coaching Beyond: My Days with the Indian Cricket Team’, published by Rupa Publications.
Going into that match, India were 1-0 behind and needed a win in Bengaluru to square the four-game series. “Ashwin’s theory was soundeven if he didn’t manage to immediately get Warner out, that line of attack would serve the additional purpose of stopping the score board from moving rapidly.”
“At the time, Warner was a very explosive player. He was threatening to take the game away from us. All Ashwin wanted was to target the rough, dry up the runs and hopefully get one to turn sharply to bowl Warner behind his legs or across his body,” added Sridhar.
Sridhar then wrote about Ashwin going to then-captain Virat Kohli after the end of day one’s play to work on the plan to dismiss Warner in the way he had visualised. “He wanted to use the same spots from where Lyon had got the ball to turn on day one. Ashwin felt that while the ball off stump to the right-handed batter was turning from outside (or from outside leg to a left-hander like Warner), nothing was happening from the middle of the surface, when it was pitched on the stump line.”
“After giving it much thought, Ashwin darted across to Virat’s room in the night for a frank discussion on his plans and why he thought they would work. Convinced about Ashwin’s line of reasoning, Virat engaged his ace off-spinner in a long conversation, they went to the drawing board, worked out the field according to their plans and executed those plans to perfection the following morning.”
On day two, in the first ball of 22nd over, Ashwin struck by taking out Warner through using the rough outside leg. He had Warner caught in two minds about an outside leg delivery which went towards the stumps. The left-handed opener was to pad up, but on seeing the extravagant turn, he tried to chase the ball with his hands. But the ball spun past the bat to hit the off stump.
“Almost magically, Warner was dismissed by a ball that pitched outside leg and spun across him. He tried to pad the ball away but was defeated by the sharp turn, and though he tried to follow the ball with his hands, it did enough to curl away from him and hit the off stump.”
“That was a great example of the kind of communication processes we had facilitated within the group, encouraging players to speak to us or to each other freely and without inhibitions. When something like this comes off, there is a great deal of satisfaction at not just the coming to fruition of smart planning and perfect implementation but also at the success of a process we had striven diligently to put in place,” wrote Sridhar.
The 2023 Border-Gavaskar Trophy will see the return of the battle between Ashwin and Warner, where the off-spinner has dismissed the left-handed opener 10 times in Tests, with five of these dismissals coming in India.