Ravichandran Ashwin has had a remarkable renaissance since being left out of the Test side during India's overseas assignments in 2013-14. There has been a marked emphasis on getting the process right and a single-mindedness to concentrate on his stock delivery, the off-break, even on surfaces such as the one at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) which offered the spinner very little purchase.
Having donned the hat of being India's strike bowler for the majority of the series, Ashwin played the holding role to great effect at the SSC and added four more wickets to take his series tally to 21 as India recorded their first away Test series win since 2011. Speaking to the media following the historic series win, Ashwin emphasized on the importance of stacking up runs for the the second new ball and taking the game deep despite the Angelo Mathews-Kusal Perera stand threatening to take the game away from India.
"The ball got really soft in the second session and it stopped swinging a little bit for the fast bowlers as well," Ashwin said. "We identified the fact that we needed to keep the runs in check and also wanted to keep things quiet so that when one wicket fell, we could really capitalise on it. Even before the game, we had identified this as the phase where runs would go. We were always stacking it up for the second new ball to come, so we were really prepared to take the game as deep as possible and that's what Test cricket is all about."
Ashwin heaped praise on Ishant Sharma, Sri Lanka's tormentor-in-chief in the SSC Test, and commended the bowling unit as a whole for their ability to sustain the pressure in partnerships. The off-spinner said that the team have been consciously advocating the need to maintain an interactive environment to facilitate greater bowling consistency across sessions of a Test match.
"I think Ishant bowled exceptionally well. I think there were a few spells where it felt like the batsmen couldn't even touch the ball. That was how well he was bowling," Ashwin opined. "When these kind of things happen, we know pretty much that pressure is going to build on the opposition. So we try and feed off each other's spells from the other end. It's a great thing. But there is a long way to go in that aspect as far as I can see it. We need to get such consistent periods all through the day. It's very difficult to maintain it for two or three session in a day. Teams that can do that, eventually go on to become champion sides.
"Every bowler will have a bad day. But it is very important to identify what is the mistake and help them out of that particular phase. We tried doing that with Umesh (Yadav) a little bit and he bowled some wonderful spells. We are trying to be interactive and Virat is really embracing the fact that we need to communicate well with each other. That's one aspect that has really come a long way on this tour," Ashwin added.
The 28-year old said that he had set no specific targets for himself at the start of the series and that he only wanted to sustain the rhythm he'd hit in the Galle Test. "Everyday of this series, I wanted to be in the kind of rhythm that I was on the first day in Galle," Ashwin said. "I came to terms with the fact that Test cricket is no child's play. I wanted to be serious in every aspect of the game and be as focused as possible. The rhythm was one thing I wanted to get all through the series. Every game there was a spell in which I got into a perfect rhythm," he said.
Ashwin, however, added that he kept a close eye on how what his opposite number, Rangana Herath was doing. "I had a close look at what Herath was doing. He bowled that wonderful spell in Galle which I wanted to replicate. To a certain degree, I thought I did that at the P. Sara Oval (second Test). He doesn't get as much bounce as I do, so I go for a few more runs than he does. I was looking to replicate what he did. I tried to get one odd ball to bounce which I am perfectly capable of. From those angles I was looking to push myself to another limit," he said.
The premier spinner, also touted for a key role as a batsman in Virat Kohli's five-bowler theory, revealed that he had been struggling with a minor tennis elbow issue that had prompted a change to his batting technique and added that he was grateful for getting back into some form with a crucial half-century in the second innings of the SSC Test.
"I have to be very thankful to the team management and the coaches. I have been struggling with a tennis elbow issue and have had to make certain technical adjustments to my batting. It has taken a bit of time. I wanted to contribute but unfortunately I couldn't spend more time in the middle. Yesterday was one day where the game situation demanded me to put everything behind and watch the ball closely. Thankfully, it came off really well," he signed off.

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