India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin has revealed that he made Steve Smith his obsession for about six months while preparing for the series when India toured Australia in 2020/21 for a four match Test series. Ashwin picked 12 wickets in three matches dismissing Smith thrice in the series.
India scripted a historic series win in Australia by 2-1 earlier this year, despite missing a number of key players through the tour. Ravichandran Ashwin played a key role in the series with 12 wickets from three matches, during which he dismissed Steve Smith thrice while Marnus Labuschagne on two occasions.
Reflecting on the preparation for the series, Ashwin revealed that he made Steve Smith his obsession for six months and studied his game in detail.
"I made him (Steve Smith) my obsession for about six months, not just two weeks or three weeks,” Ashwin told ESPNcricinfo in an interview. “Just footage, just watching different matches. The most recent series they played (before India toured Australia in 2020-21) was New Zealand. I went through every single day's play. I would go on to my app and check - how many runs was (Marnus) Labuschagne batting on when Will Somerville came on to bowl, which ball did he hit over the cow corner.”
Marnus Labuschagne was the highest run-getter in the series with 426 runs at an average of 53.25. Ashwin opined that the spinners have to be very precise in Australia, as he talked about his observations from Labuschagne Smith’s game, while watching the old footages.
"As a spinner, you need to be very precise in Australia,” Ashwin explained. “Every run you give must be on your own terms. So whenever Marnus Labuschagne steps out, he hits the ball over cow corner for an offspinner, or he hits it over mid-off. It's very rare through long-on. And he doesn't have a flat sweep, he has a lap sweep, like a paddle. All these shots have a trigger. And it's very fine. If you don't know or if you've not seen enough footage, you cannot pick these things up."
“And with Steve Smith, his batting is very momentum-driven. Most of his batting comes from his hands, so my whole idea was to disturb his hands through the series. He's got certain hand-movement patterns. You have to pick them and be able to bowl in a way that disturbs his hand pattern. So I bowled with different load-ups, different speeds, different run-ups and all that. I realised I kind of got to him."
Ashwin recently surpassed Harbhajan Singh to become India’s third highest wicket-taker in Tests cricket. He has 427 wickets from 81 matches so far, and will be a key player during the team's upcoming Test series against South Africa, beginning December 26.