Ashwin says altering approach helped him at No. 6
R Ashwin has a career strike rate of 55.35 with the bat. But in his first three innings at No. 6, he has scored his runs at 40.90. Speaking to the media after scoring his second hundred of those three innings, and becoming only the fourth allrounder ever to score two hundreds and take two five-wicket hauls in the same Test series, Ashwin said his promotion up the order had induced a conscious change of approach with the bat.
"It's difficult to try and think too far ahead [at No. 6]," Ashwin said. "That's easily possible if you are batting at No. 7 or 8, which has happened to me before when I have batted at No. 8. When I have batted at No. 8, you think like a bowler at times and want to get a few extra runs. So I used to play a few more shots.
"Thankfully I had a very good preparation one month before the series. I batted quite a lot and devised a gameplan if and when I got a chance to bat at No. 6. The idea was to knock as many balls as possible. My goal is very simple. If I get a good start, if I get to 20 runs then I'm going to capitalise on it. Then I'm going to play percentage cricket. It's all about trying to play the percentages and trying to string together a partnership and not look too far ahead in the game.
"One thing I try to do is to bat sessions. There have been times when I've scored hundreds in two sessions or less than two sessions. This is kind of different, but I do enjoy it. It's time-consuming and concentration-consuming but it's enjoyable."
Ashwin came in to bat at 87 for 4, and was joined by Wriddhiman Saha at 126 for 5. They added 213 for the sixth wicket, allowing India to post a first-innings total of 353. Ashwin said his 118, which lasted 297 balls and was his longest Test innings - could prove a "series-defining" effort.
"It is indeed," he said, when asked if he considered it a special hundred. "I mean if we look at the scenario in hindsight later on, this could very well be a series-defining knock because we were in some trouble yesterday and there was every chance that we could be skittled out and also I thought it needed a bit of application.
"It was not like making a hundred back home or anywhere in the world. I'm sure about that because it was definitely not a wicket where you could just plonk your front foot and play through the line. It was a hard-fought day yesterday and it was no different today. We just hope we can capitalise on the rearguard action later tomorrow."
Given West Indies' bowling discipline, a bit of help from the surface, and a slow outfield, Ashwin only hit six fours and a six in his innings. While Saha played his shots after negotiating the first hour of the morning session, he too went through periods of almost pure defence. Ashwin said it had been "very difficult to score" at times.
"When we got together we were in quite a bit of trouble and it was one of the wickets, I don't know whether it's improving any bit, where you are not in at any time," he said. "There was a good chance that you might be nicked off or you might get a good ball any time. It was very difficult to score.
"So we went and bit the bullet quite hard and wanted to just stick in there even if the runs weren't quite coming. Obviously, the results came later on. It was a good partnership and both enjoyed each other's company to be very honest."
Having batted with Saha in the past and watched him in first-class cricket, Ashwin knew what to expect from him.
"I think we've batted a few times in the past," he said. "Even [in Sydney] we put together a gritty partnership. The thing with Saha is he puts a price on his wicket and he's a damn good player of spinners. He can tonk the ball, that I know from having played first-class cricket with him.
"I know Saha pretty well and the communication was sticking around rather than look for avenues to score. It was just that even if we played a couple of maiden overs, we wanted to tell each other that we need to keep going and it was not about the maiden overs they keep bowling."
During the partnership, Ashwin said he and Saha had also picked up clues that might help India's bowlers later on.
"When Saha and me were batting, we were communicating about which way the ball was swinging, what the bowler was trying to do. There was a lot of help when the bowlers bowled cross-seam, and we've communicated to the bowlers and we hope they will find their rhythm tomorrow as well."
West Indies began strongly in their reply, ending the second day 107 for 1, with Kraigg Brathwaite batting on 53. Ashwin said India would need to stay patient and try to capitalise whenever a new batsman was at the crease.
"Long partnerships came in, one breakthrough and somebody gets into a spell. That's what we're looking at. If and when a couple of wickets fall, we can squeeze and jam them in.
"The thing is that [West Indies] did get some momentum, I believe, from the Jamaica Test, but that's how Test cricket is like. We didn't come over here thinking or expecting to roll them over. They're also a Test team, and in their home conditions, it's going to be hard and we expected it."
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo