Sachin Tendulkar credits R Ashwin for neutralising the Steven Smith threat
He also praises debutants Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj
Keeping Steven Smith quiet has been one of the key factors in India's strong showing against Australia in their ongoing series, which is tied 1-1 after both teams registered eight-wicket wins in Adelaide and Melbourne. So tight have India been to him that he hasn't crossed double digits yet, with scores of 1, 1*, 0 and 8 so far.
Smith has been particularly troubled by R Ashwin, with the offspinner well ahead in his head-to-head battle with Australia's best batsman. Ashwin has bowled 23 balls to him so far, of which Smith has taken only four runs - all singles - while being out twice.
Analysing the contest, Sachin Tendulkar praised Ashwin's control, variety and planning for Smith.
"In the first Test, Smith got out to an arm ball or you can call it a straighter one which Ashwin releases differently," Tendulkar told PTI. "An offspinner bowls a straighter one which skids off the surface when the fingers are not on top of the ball.
"In the second Test, it was not a slider but [Ashwin's] fingers were on top of the ball, which produced bounce and turn. Steve Smith played a normal flick to a regulation off-break that any batsman does by instinct, and the fielder was brilliantly placed there. It was a well-planned ball and wicket by Ashwin. Both are class players, so someone is going to have a better day and so far, Ashwin has come out the winner in the first two Tests."
Tendulkar was also full of praise for Ajinkya Rahane's leadership after India's series-equaling win in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG, but called for comparisons between his captaincy and that of regular captain Virat Kohli to cease. With India 64 for 3 at one stage in the first innings, Rahane's 112 helped India to a decisive 131-run lead before a 27 not out in the second innings calmed the nerves in the run chase, where India had lost two early wickets.
"I thought Ajinkya batted brilliantly," Tendulkar said. "He was calm, relaxed and composed. He had aggressive intent, but aggression was rightly balanced by calmness and surety. So he did not miss opportunities when a boundary ball was there. And when one had to be patient, he was patient. The intent was very good."
"I felt this was a brilliant performance by our team, the manner in which our team was able to play and the way Ajinkya led the team," Tendulkar said. "Also, if you look at senior cricketers and their contribution, it has been good. People shouldn't get into comparisons with Virat. Ajinkya has [a] different personality. His intent was aggressive. I would like to remind everyone that they are both Indians and they both play for India, so no individuals come above India. Team and country is above everything else."
India went into the second Test with two debutants in Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj, and both came away with good contributions. Gill made 45 and 35 not out, while Siraj's match figures of 5 for 77 were the second-best ever for a visiting paceman on debut in Australia in the last 50 years.
"Shubman looked confident and comfortable," Tendulkar said. "He played some good shots off the short-pitched stuff that the Australians bowled.
"Let's also not forget how Siraj has bowled. It did not appear to me that he was playing his first Test match. The way he bowled his first over and then built it up gradually, but never did it look that he was playing his first match. The plans were well thought out. He executed it well. Both debutants were comfortable in execution of their plans."