Ashwin's dream start

This was how most offies would love to start in Australia.

Off spinners touring Australia usually bring their own cyanide pill. I wrote about how hard it is for offspinners touring Australia, it’s a nightmare, but the one where you wake up and intruder really is in your room.

The numbers are horrific. And there were a few reasons for that. It starts with their openers, who start well. And then so do pretty much all their batsman at home. But it's also their pitches; they are made for batting. And then it's about the overseas finger spinners not being as suited to Australia as other places.  Today, much of that was not on show. 

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Openers

Usually Australian openers are the equal best - with India - of any openers at home. They're averaging a tick under 50 per opener, that is an immense advantage they didn't take into this game. 

Today they had a historically shallow opening partnership. A guy who had never done it. And a poor bloke in the form that gets you a hand on the shoulder and not much else.  They actually over-performed considering, but both still went cheaply. 

Straight away this presented a far different environment for Ashwin to bowl in. But so did what happened just before he came on. It wasn't just the wickets, but the pressure. His first spell came on the back of an extraordinary period of bowling from Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Having them was a huge help, as they're not only good but experienced in Australia. 

Runs 

All this meant Smith was in under more pressure than usual.  He does average 81 at home over the last five years. But if you have the misfortune to bowl to him in Australia, make sure it's with as few runs on the board as possible. And while that pressure helped, it was the delivery to Smith that mattered as much as anything.  Even out of the hand it seemed like a decent ball, and to take the outside of Smith's bat - ever - is an incredible effort.  

In the previous piece, I suggested Ashwin has probably been the best offspinner to bowl a lot in Australia over the last two decades.  That didn't mean his numbers were great, but he had bowled quality spells and balls on the previous tours. Even with that, this one to Smith stood out.

If your openers average 49 each, and your number four is at 81, it means that usually your middle order is strolling to the wicket when the opposition is done. This wasn't the case here. 

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And this also wasn't a regular strong Australian middle order. At five and six are Travis Head and Cameron Green. Head's overall average is fine, but he's a long way from a complete Test batsman. And Green is on debut. So Australia has no runs, their best batsman has just been dismissed, and the middle is fragile.  

Head was trying to be positive and spooned back a simple chance. Now perhaps the flight got him, or maybe he thought he needed to be on top of Ashwin because of his record to left-handers. But it was a soft dismissal.  

Green followed by pulling a short ball to mid-wicket. Even if it was the quicker one, it's doubtful Ashwin meant it to be that short (unless he was trying to bounce Green out). The idea surely would have been to try trap him for an LBW or slip one through him, instead he dragged it down. Green didn't get it off the middle, and it also took a pretty handy fielding effort to probably save it from the boundary.  

His fourth wicket was against the tail, and it was an amalgamation of the previous two wickets, a fairly innocuous ball, and a soft dismissal. Usually offspinners bowling to the Australian tail get some stick. By the time they come in the bowler has been belted around, the pitch is completely flat, and if you get a wicket, it's from a batsman swinging hard for some bonus runs. So even that was different, Lyon was trying to bat properly, as much as he can. And no one was more annoyed with the soft wicket than he was. 

Pitches

If that makes it sound like Ashwin was lucky, he wasn't. He bowled well enough to take four wickets, even more. It's just the actual wickets were often gifted to him. One thing not in his direct favour was the pitch. If anything this has been a wicket that has favoured the fast men.

Australia pitches are usually good for batting, or at the least, good for scoring runs.  This was neither, meaning that scoreboard pressure was always there for Ashwin.  

The ball to Marnus Labuschagne kept very low for an Australian wicket on day two. And what followed was one jumping up to Cummins. Australian pitches are almost never this difficult to make runs, and rarely inconsistent with bounce early on. 

That Cheteshwar Pujara scored slow was seen as an error from him. Even Matthew Wade and all his Big Bash energy couldn't score. Until the ball got soft - in both innings - no one scored at a decent rate, I think we can say the pitch played a large part. 

Without the Australians putting on any kind of scoreboard pressure, Ashwin could bowl as he pleased. The pitch was not in his favour, the situation was.

Adelaide 

And then there's Ashwin and Adelaide. This is his third Test here, and he's never taken less than two wickets in an innings here.  The first time he played here he took five wickets in the match, and bowled far better than that.  Last time he took six wickets, but even better went at less than two runs an over in both innings. And now this spell.  

Ashwin is a decent bowler in Adelaide, and everywhere else in Oz he's struggled a lot more.  And yet if Ravi Jadeja had been fit, I think - rightly - he'd have missed this Test.  Ashwin might yet still have a tough time in Australia this series, one decent spell is just a start, and there will probably be tougher days. David Warner may get Australia off to better starts. Smith won't always be in early. The middle order will make more runs. And this Adelaide pitch won't travel for him. 

 But if you're an offspinner playing in Australia, you can't have a much better start than this.  He bowled beautifully, got lucky, and they'll be at least one more turn at his favourite holiday location.

Australia can be a tough place to tour at the best of times. For an offspinner, it's worse. But right now, Ashwin's living a reality that most offies touring here never even dream of.

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