India offspinner R Ashwin, who batted at No. 6 for the first time in his Test career, has said that he was surprised by the promotion in Antigua, where he made his third Test century and his first away from home.
"Batting at No. 6 was a complete surprise for me," Ashwin told bcci.tv. "Virat [Kohli] told me in the morning of the game that I would be batting at six, and I really liked what he said. He said: 'We trust you, and we want you to bat at six and see how it goes'. I wanted to give something back to the team, and show that I was good batting at No.6."
Having arrived late on the first day at 236 for 4, Ashwin saw out a tricky phase with Kohli and took India to 302 for 4 at stumps.
Ashwin then unfurled his array of strokes on the second day, the highlight being a straight back-foot punch off West Indies captain Jason Holder. But when Shannon Gabriel, West Indies' best bowler in the game, posed questions outside off stump with away movement or the lack of it, Ashwin was prepared to grind him down. He pressed on to bring up a century off 237 balls with a whipped four, before holing out for 113 off 253 balls.
"I wanted to lend some solidity," Ashwin said. "It was quite a tiring innings because I played about 250 balls, and after that to come out and exhibit how I could bowl after a tired innings. I was very pleased with that."
Given Kohli's penchant for playing with five bowlers, there was pressure on Ashwin and the lower order to contribute more with the bat. Ashwin had said after his century that batting in the top seven was a long-term goal and that he considered himself an allrounder.
"I always value myself as an allrounder," he said. "Not like I don't look at myself that way. Batting at six, there is always that many opportunities to score a hundred than when you are batting at eight. So, I have started off well on that note. Batting at No.6, I have managed a five-for as well. I just hope I can go from strength to strength from here."
Ashwin was pleased with his first five-wicket haul outside Asia, having made his debut against West Indies in 2011. He finished with figures of 7 for 83 to seal India's innings-and-92-run win inside four days.
"It has taken more than five years for me to repeat it [take a five-for] outside the subcontinent," he said. "That is something I wanted to break: getting a five-wicket haul away from Asia. That is something I worked earnestly towards and very pleased for myself."
Ashwin's returns came after he had gone wicketless in the first innings while conceding 43 runs in 17 overs. He said that his role in the first innings was to largely support the fast bowlers, who found swing and then reverse swing to rattle the hosts.
"In the first innings, I couldn't get a good spell going because the fast bowlers were bowling really well," he said. "We actually had to short change with them for roles and try to give them a break."
Ashwin revelled in a more attacking role in the second innings, profiting from subtle changes in pace and drift. His dismissal of Marlon Samuels, drifting one away past the outside edge to hit the top of off stump, was reward for using the breeze after setting the batsman up with a couple of offbreaks.
"The speeds were something that was going to challenge us on this wicket, because the ball got softer," Ashwin said. "As the ball got softer and softer, it was very hard to get the ball going. It was very slow and sluggish, and so we needed to keep a tab on the pace, and use the drift pretty well."
Ashwin also lauded coach Anil Kumble for his inputs during the course of the match. "In the second innings, I was constantly in touch with Anil bhai also about what is that right speeds to be bowling," Ashwin said. "We were constantly in touch through different occasions of the game. I went wicketless for the first 25-26 overs I bowled in the match, and in the past it would have definitely troubled me. I am someone who likes to keep getting wickets. I kept on speaking to him about what I was doing right and what I was not doing right. He felt my body was not going through well yesterday because I was a little tired. Also, he told I had to slow down at the crease, gave me different ideas about what lines to bowl to batsmen."