Ashwin, a 36-year-old all-rounder from Chennai, has scored five centuries in an illustrious 88 Test career. But his masterpieces in batting are not tons, or even half-centuries. Like the unbeaten 42 he produced on Sunday, they are lessons in how to deal with exacting situations that life sometimes throws at you, occasions when an individual’s temperament and mettle are truly tested. On Christmas morning in tandem with the equally equanimous Iyer (29 n.o), Ashwin fashioned an unbroken 71 run partnership to deliver a nerve-jangling three-wicket win for India. He was again Team India’s hero and saviour abroad. And his off-breaks had once more taken a backseat.
Remember Jan 2021 against Australia in Sydney, the day when Ashwin couldn’t bend down to tie his shoelaces but batted and battled for over three hours with a hobbling Hanuma Vihari to grab a draw which felt like victory. That innings denoted defiance. Remember him facing Pakistan’s Mohd Nawaz during the T20 World Cup in Melbourne last month. Only someone with iceberg nerves could impassively let go of the game’s last delivery to claim a wide in that pulse-pounding encounter. That cameo also underlined his situational awareness and a singular commitment to accomplish what needs to be done. And that too, without screaming “Ben Stokes.”
In Mirpur, Ashwin again showcased the best traits – defiance, awareness and composure – of those two knocks. And then added a new dimension, calculated aggression, to finish the job IPL style. Dropped on 1, Ashwin didn’t give the hosts a second chance. Bangladesh held their head in hand, aghast, how he had managed to keep out that quick delivery from paceman Khaled Ahmed and were equally befuddled when he switched channels to pummel 19 runs off the last 8 balls he faced. In his last over, Mehidy Hasan Miraz, the most lethal bowler of the day, was struck for 16, including two fours and a six over long-on. That shot was surely the bravest of Ashwin’s Test career.
Key moments: How India clinched Mirpur thriller to blank Bangladesh
<p>Key moments: How India clinched Mirpur thriller to blank Bangladesh<br /></p>
The Test might have been watched by fewer people than the MCG game. But its impact is immense. The 2-0 series sweep maintains India’s spotless Test record against Bangladesh and keeps captain KL Rahul and company in the second spot and in the hunt for next year’s World Test Championship final. A defeat would have pushed India to the fourth spot in the table.
Partnering Ashwin, all along was Shreyas Iyer, the 28-year-old Mumbai middle-order bat. Unlike all other frontline batters, Iyer looked untroubled by the pitch as he constructed the most valuable fourth-innings knock of his brief Test career. It was his offensive against Bangladesh captain Shakib Al Hasan, especially a lofted off drive against the spin, that changed the game’s tenor and mood. With this innings, Iyer has earned his spurs.
Over the decades, India has been involved in many memorable chases in Test abroad, notably Oval 1971, Port of Spain 1976, Kandy 2001, Brisbane 2021. But Mirpur 2022 was a triumph by the narrowest margin. To use an oft-used but apt phrase, it was a victory wrenched out from the jaws of defeat. Which is what makes it extra-special.
Victories, unfortunately, tend to bury uncomfortable questions. But there’s no hiding that both Rahul and Kohli failed to reach even 25 in any of the innings they played. The only player with a worse batting average than them was paceman Mohd Siraj. Regular captain, currently in repair, Rohit Sharma too has been way below his best. It would be interesting how Team India takes on formidable visitors Australia in a four-Test series beginning in February.