Roseau (Dominica): Nursing a bruised ego after WTC final snub last month, Ravichandran Ashwin made the best possible comeback as his 33rd five-wicket haul put India in the driver’s seat against a below-par West Indies on the first day of the opening Test, here on Wednesday.
Ashwin justified his top billing in ICC Test bowlers’ ranking with figures of 5 for 60 in 24.3 overs to decimate West Indies for a lowly 150 in 64.3 overs with Ravindra Jadeja (3/26 in 14 overs) beautifully complementing him to make life miserable for the home team batters.
With more than an hour available for batting skipper Rohit Sharma (30 batting, 65 balls) and debutant Yashasvi Jaiswal (40 batting, 73 balls) added 80 runs for the opening stand to bring down first innings deficit to 70 going into second day.
The new pair looked comfortable as there is not much help for the bowlers with Indian skipper hitting his customary ‘Nataraja’ pull-shot and soothing straight drive. Jaiswal also hardly showed any signs of nerves as he played close to his body for better part of evening.
But the opening day’s honours went to Ashwin, whose un-matchable artistry was too much to handle for an under-cooked batting line-up.
Making full use of the slow two-paced track that also offered turn and bounce, Ashwin had reasons to be chuffed as he became third Indian bowler after Anil Kumble (956 wickets) and Harbhajan Singh (711) to complete 700 scalps across formats in international cricket.
He also achieved the distinction of being first Indian bowler to dismiss father and son when he got rid of Shivnarine Chanderpaul’s son Tagenarine, having dismissed the father on his Test debut in 2011.
Save debutant left-hander Alick Athanaze (47 off 99), who batted responsibly till his dismissal, none of the Caribbean batters had the technique to survive on a slow turner as none of them could even cross 20-run mark.
Ashwin varied his pace, bowling a few sliders and pushing some other deliveries across to right handers while effectively using the drift to bowl conventional off-breaks to left-handers.
The tireless Mohammed Siraj (12-2-25-1) also deserves a lot of credit as he bowled a beautiful fuller length during first session, changed his tactic to use a lot more bouncers post-lunch to hurry the batters on a slow track.
One such delivery accounted for Jason Holder, who took the bait and was holed out at square leg boundary for the fielder stationed for that mistimed pull-shot.
Siraj was also brilliant on the field as his diving catch at mid-off to dismiss Jermaine Blackwood off Jadeja’s bowling was top notch effort.
The decision to bat on a track that offered turn and bounce on very first day, backfired for Caribbean batters, most of whom lacked requisite patience to deal with it.
Shardul Thakur (7-3-15-1), operating as the third seamer in overseas conditions for the first time, continued with his happy knack of picking wickets with Jaydev Unadkat (7-2-17-0) also doing his job commendably.
Opting to bat first, West Indies openers Chanderpaul (12, 44 balls) and skipper Kraigg Brathwaite (20 off 46 balls) went into a shell during the first hour as both Siraj and Unadkat beating the outside edge of both batters on multiple occasions.
The pressure created by the pace duo did reap dividends as Ashwin slowed the pace of his deliveries, used the available drift to a good advantage to make life uncomfortable for the two openers.
There was a nice loop and he did challenge both inside and outside edge during the second hour.
Tagenarine’s stance and trigger shuffle from leg to off-stump does have an uncanny resemblance with his illustrious father Shivnarine although he is slightly more side-on compared to his ‘Old Man’.
Sensing his shuffle, Ashwin got one to hang in the air and drift into the southpaw, who played inside the line only to find it beat his outside edge after pitching and there was a death rattle.
West Indies skipper Brathwaite, easily the best Test batter in the side over the last five years, was increasingly getting frustrated as Ashwin bowled slightly quicker at times to him.
He did try to hit out of trouble with a slog swept boundary but the canny operator fired one across the line, inducing Brathwaite to go for a mindless bottom-handed slog over mid-on. However the mistimed slog only became easiest skiers for skipper Rohit Sharma stationed at cover.
Left-handed Raymon Reifer (2 off 18 balls) never looked in control as Siraj softened him up with some short balls.
So when Thakur, who is a notch slower came into the attack, he wanted to come on front-foot and get his cover drive going. Thakur quickly slipped one across the stumps and the thick outside edge was snapped by a diving Ishant Kishan behind the stumps.
In the post lunch session, Athanaze, who looked most comfortable against Ashwin did hit some lusty blows but was done in by slowness of the track as he couldn’t time a short ball and the skier was gobbled up by Thakur.