R Ashwin has chosen AB de Villiers' wicket in Nagpur last season, getting Kane Williamson twice in this Test and dismissing Kumar Sangakkara repeatedly in Sri Lanka last year as some of the special memories in his journey to becoming the second-fastest man to 200 Test wickets.
He could have been the fastest, but was denied by rain in two Tests in the West Indies. Ashwin reached the landmark in 37 Tests, while Australia's Clarrie Grimmett took 36 matches. Before Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh was the fastest Indian bowler to reach the milestone, in 46 Tests.
"Maybe Clarrie Grimmett was a nicer man than I am," Ashwin joked. "I think it just had to be that way. It's fine, honestly. There are a lot of positives to look at and lots of good memories that I've created over the last five-six years of international cricket, and to look back and feel sore about it [the rain] is not the right way to go about my career. So, I'm just happy where I am right now."
The memories of getting Sangakkara and de Villiers, among the best of all time, and Williamson, who is arguably the best Test batsman going around, have to be really special among those memories. "Kane Williamson is not a bad 200th scalp," Ashwin said. "There are quite a few good wickets that I've had over a period of time. AB de Villiers in Nagpur was very well set up. Kane Williamson in this Test match in the first innings, I thought was a very, very good ball. Kumar Sangakkara in Sri Lanka… These are some special memories that I'll always cherish in my cricketing career. I hope I can create more and more in the future."
Sangakkara played the last two matches of his Test career against India in 2015. Ashwin got him all four times, caught at slip twice, and at silly point and gully once each. He got de Villiers with a carrom ball in the second innings of the Nagpur Test. And in this Test, after consistent pressure on Williamson in the first innings, the batsman went for a cut against the turn, but the ball turned in sharply to beat the bat. Williamson had done almost everything right to adjust to the turn, but was beaten. For his 200th wicket, Ashwin trapped Williamson on the back foot and had him lbw.
Ashwin had to overcome a difficult period when he was dropped after the 2013-14 Johannesburg Test. India had failed to bowl South Africa out in four-and-a-half sessions in the second innings at the Wanderers, after which Ashwin missed seven out of India's nine Tests, all outside Asia. During that period, Ashwin rediscovered his game, fine-tuned his action and came back rejuvenated.
"That phase is very, very important," Ashwin said. "It taught me a lot, and more so, it emphasised that I should be working on my skill. And my skill has definitely been talked of ever since. This game, especially, I have a corn on my finger and I haven't bowled a lot in the last 25 days. I'm not very happy with the way it has come out so far. I just hope that I can do better in the series."
Ashwin has amassed 18 five-fors and four ten-wicket match hauls so far, and has more Man-of-the-Series awards than any other Indian. After the day's play, Ashwin said: "The last 80-100 wickets have been very, very good for me. Ever since I came back from Australia last year, and went to Bangladesh, I think that's when I really started enjoying my bowling. I knew what I was doing very clearly, started planning my dismissals, knew exactly how to set batsmen up. It has been a wonderful journey over the last couple of years, I just hope it keeps going for some time."
One of the adjustments Ashwin made in this game was to go over the wicket to left-hand batsmen. He explained the move. "The way the New Zealand left-hand batsmen play is very different to the other left-handers," Ashwin said. "They don't plonk their foot across, they plonk it right down the wicket, try to play inside out a lot. It will work on this wicket because it doesn't have enough bounce, turn and carry. So it will work on this wicket. Just trying to change a bit of angles, and our targets were better today."
So perhaps from around the wicket, Ashwin felt that the batsmen were not coming close enough to edging good balls, and were also succeeding in playing inside out to the ones that might not have been as threatening. Ashwin chose to speak more about his skills rather than detractors. Before the start of the season, Harbhajan had advised India to not ask for rank turners.
"We don't have enough time to read about all these things," Ashwin said. "To be very honest, what kind of wickets we are playing is not something that [Ani] Kumble or [Virat] Kohli can go and roll wickets or water it. What we get is what we play on. Obviously, we are looking to play good cricket and it is not going to take the sheen off. It is very unfortunate that people don't realise it. But it is very important that we enjoy the brand of cricket that we play, and win is a win. Savour it. If a Test match in England gets over in two days, nobody talks about it. Why in India, though?"