Zaheer, Ashwin promise fight in Tests
Two of India's most experienced bowlers, Zaheer Khan and R Ashwin, have promised a better fight in the upcoming Tests after India were blanked 2-0 in the ODIs. Zaheer, one of the few in this Indian team not shy to have a word, has begun to stir up the opposition. Ashwin, meanwhile, has said he will not throw in the towel just yet.
When asked to respond to South Africa players' comments that they have scarred a few of the visitors, Zaheer made his feelings known. "You know, talk is talk," Zaheer said. "You can talk as much as you like outside. Once you go on to the field, it's all about doing. And I think this Indian team will do the needful. Whatever it's going to take to win this series."
Zaheer is a bowler who plays mind games well. Once he spots a weakness in a batsman, he goes all the way with it. He has done that to South Africa's Test captain, Graeme Smith, successfully in the past. This in itself, many Indian pundits felt, was reason enough to bring Zaheer to South Africa. And he is no mood to let Smith forget that he has dismissed him 13 times in 396 balls in all international cricket. Asked if he had any new plans to get Smith out, Zaheer said, "I just have to turn up."
Just so he didn't sound too obnoxious, though, Zaheer added, "Having said that, Graeme Smith has got a terrific record in Test matches. He's a good leader. It's good to have that advantage. When you go into a match and have that edge over someone who has been a good opener and [has] been scoring consistently at the highest level."
Ashwin is part of the ODI side that has taken a hammering in the recently concluded ODI series, which India lost 2-0. He is a combative and proud man too. It doesn't sit well with him that he has gone for 169 runs off 168 balls for a solitary wicket in the series thus far. He might, rightly, not agree that India's performance so far is a "disaster", but pride says he will have give it his all in the Tests.
"I am definitely here in terms of looking to fight and just go on fighting," Ashwin said. "I am prepared for a fight. I want to take it to the field and see what I can actually do. Be it with catching, be it with bowling or be it with batting. I am prepared for all. So I am just going to go out there and make sure that I at least give it 100% of what I can to try for a series win. It cannot get any better. It means the most to me in life."
Ashwin said that he started to work on his Test bowling during the last, inconsequential, ODI, although he did also, for some reason, mention that he had achieved what he wanted to achieve through his bowling in the ODIs. "In terms of what I wanted to achieve out of the ODI series, it's pretty much through," Ashwin, on his first tour to South Africa, said. "I wanted to test the conditions, see how much it responded to what I was delivering. Yesterday, pretty much, the Test match was more on my mind. I thought I can toss a lot more balls up and see where it goes. Definitely the ball was drifting much more.
"I think it's got to [do] much [with] the air in terms of what I'm planning to do here. [I just] try and set fields and bowl straighter lines. I've chatted to a few people who have been here and done well so that's going to help. I'd like to play the situation rather than anything else. I've prepared myself in terms of what I can deliver at the best of my abilities, and then I'll take the situation at hand and do what the situation demands."
Patience and accuracy, Ashwin said, were going to be key to performing well in the Test series. Asked if his mindset changes from being a wicket-taker to the one holding up one end when he goes out of Asia, he said, "Whatever I have heard and whatever tour I have gone on, I was always expected to take wickets. There's no two ways about it. I have my personal expectations, and I would like to do well anywhere I go.
"Nothing means more to me than an overseas victory. In terms of planning a spell or building up a scenario, it's going to be the key here. Need to be patient here, in terms of let[ting] things happen, rather than look to make things happen. The time will come when you can make things happen."
Ashwin said he will need to contribute not only as a bowler, but also as a batsman and fielder. "There are three facets of the game," Ashwin said. "I'll be standing at slips, I'll be bowling, I'll be batting. I would fight in every department. I am dead serious about it. I will definitely throw every bit. I will never throw the towel, and I'll try and see where I can go [from] here. There is nothing that will mean more to me than a victory overseas."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo