R Ashwin’s innings of an unbeaten 39 off 128 balls that helped India snatch a draw at a time when defeat looked likely would go down as part of Indian cricketing folklore, but what promises to add to the brilliance are odds the off-spinner battled a day before his resilient knock on Day 5 in Sydney.
“It had been a tense morning. Over the years, I have seen him handle pain and know he has a high threshold for it, but I had never seen him like this. He was crawling on the floor. He couldn’t get up or bend down. I couldn’t imagine how he was going to play and the snack-break comment was said only in half-jest. As he was about to leave, he said, ‘I have to play. I have to get this done’,” Prithi wrote.
“The first signs of trouble had come the earlier evening, at the end of the fourth day’s play. I had seen him on television in some sort of pain a couple of times. When he walks into the room, he usually has just a few minutes before he rushes to the physio or masseur table and then meetings. if any, and comes back late. ‘Are you fine, physically?’ I asked him and he shot back, ‘Didn’t you see me bowl?!’ and said he felt he had a tweak in the back that was beginning to hurt. He felt during warm-ups that morning that he stepped awkwardly and did something to his back.”
Ashwin had reportedly complained of pain in his back the day before during Australia’s second innings. The off-spinner, who had gone wicketless in the first innings, picked up 2/95 in the second innings, but while he was low on wickets, his true test would come with the bat as India were given the stiff task of batting out an entire day with eight wickets in hand and 309 runs away from win.
Ashwin came out at the fall of Cheteshwar Pujara’s wicket after lunch. India had lost his and Rishabh Pant’s wickets in quick succession and Australia sensed an opening. Ashwin was peppered with short balls, taking blows to his shoulder and ribs but he went on, calling for a chest guard. In the end, Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari had done the job for India, batting out nearly 50 overs to escape with a draw. It’s almost impossible to believe the amount of pain Ashwin was in.
“It had slowly begun to act up as the day progressed. He went to the physio. Ashwin was wracking in pain, and I knew other players too were injured. The match was still alive, and I was wondering how these guys were going to do it. As family members, our emotions are wired differently – we see them at close quarters, pain and emotion and the abnormal desire to compete and win is something I have tried to get used to, but I don’t think I will ever be able to understand it completely,” Prithi added.
“I could see Ashwin standing in the dressing room corridor or pacing up and down on television. I knew it must be because he feared if he sat down, he couldn’t get up. That racked up my worries a bit. When Ashwin was walking out to bat in pain, I was thinking ‘How these guys do what they do, only they know’.
“I would never forget the surreal moment when Ashwin walked into the room that evening. We laughed, we cried, we laughed. We didn’t know how to react. And we howled. It wasn’t an euphoric cry – that was after the Melbourne win in the second Test. That had a different feel. I had rarely seen him that light, that bouncy, that delirious.”