Ashwin spins India to win; team takes unbeatable 2-0 lead


India rode on a superb performance from off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to beat South Africa by 124 runs in the third Test and take an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match series at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Jamtha, on the outskirts of Nagpur, on Friday.

Resuming the third day at 32 for two wickets, South Africa were bowled out for 185 in their second innings while chasing a target of 310 runs. India had won the first Test at Mohali while the second Test in Bengaluru was washed out due to heavy rain.

This was South Africa’s first series defeat on foreign soil in nine years, during which they played 15 times away from home.

Ashwin was the star of the show, claiming figures of 7/66 in the second innings. The Tamil Nadu spinner, who had five scalps in the first innings, took home the Man of the Match award with a match haul of 12 wickets.

Ashwin is the now the highest wicket-taker of the year with 55 scalps, ahead of England pacer Stuart Broad (51). The last time an Indian bowler had taken 50 or more Test wickets in a calendar year was in 2008, when off-spinner Harbhajan Singh took 53.

Leg-spinner Amit Mishra (3/51) also made merry on the crumbling pitch, picking up three wickets, including the crucial ones of South African skipper Hashim Amla and Faf du Plesis.

Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja also troubled the Proteas batsmen, although he did not claim a wicket in the second innings. Pacer Ishant Sharma also bowled well, helped on by the unpredictable bounce and movement offered by the uneven surface.

Amla and du Plesis were the only South African batsmen to offer a spirited fightback to the Indian bowlers. Coming together after the fall of the in-form AB de Villiers in the pre-lunch session, the duo put together a 72-run partnership although they were finding it tough to negotiate the difficult pitch.

Amla, who has not been at his best so far in this series, gave a good account of himself. He showed much better application and footwork, notching up a well made 39 before being caught by skipper Virat Kohli off Mishra’s bowling.

Du Plesis (39) gave his captain excellent support from the other end, smashing three boundaries and a six during his stint in the middle. The pair looked more confident in the second session, but the runs did not come easy as they scored just 21 off 19 overs in the first hour after lunch before both were dismissed in successive overs from Mishra.

The partnership was the second highest for South Africa in this series after the 76-run stand between Amla and Dean Elgar for the third wicket in the first innings of the Mohali Test.

South Africa suffered crucial blows early in the day when opener Dean Elgar got a thick inside edge off an Ashwin delivery. The ball rebounded off the pads for a simple catch by Cheteshwar Pujara at silly point.

De Villiers seemed to be in good nick and even smashed Jadeja for a boundary through mid-off. But Ashwin accounted for the experienced South African with a carrom ball that kept straight after pitching. De Villiers misread the spin of the ball which hit the rear leg and the umpire had no hesitation in awarding a leg before decision.

Once Mishra had sent Amla and du Plesis back to the pavilion, an Indian victory was only a matter of time. Ashwin completed the formalities by claiming the last four wickets to bring the partisan home crowd on to its feet.

Brief scores: India: 215 and 173; South Africa: 79 and 185