Chennai: Ravichandran Ashwin claimed eight wickets and hit 106 with the bat to play the central role in India’s 317-run thrashing of England and it was made even more special by taking the stage in his local stadium.
Ashwin was quick to grab one of the stumps as a momento after the last England wicket fell and the MA Chidambaram Stadium erupted in flag-waving joy on Tuesday.
Captain Virat Kohli said India had played the “perfect game”, bowling England out for 134 and 164, but his side could not have levelled the series without the 34-year-old Ashwin.
“I’ve played four Test matches and this is easily the most special Test match,” the Chennai-born off-spinner said after receiving the Man of the Match.
“It gave me a hero feeling. In COVID times, a lot of people came without any worries and even though some didn’t wear masks, they cheered for us. I dedicate this win to the Chennai crowd.”
Ashwin’s every wicket was cheered on by the crowd that was allowed into the stadium, which is better known as “Chepauk”, for the first time since before the coronavirus outbreak a year ago.
Ashwin brought the house down on Monday with his fifth Test century in India’s second innings. He hugged batting partner Mohammed Siraj, raised his bat and let out a rare smile.
Now six short of 400 Test wickets in 76 matches, he also recorded his 29th five-wicket haul in England’s first innings.
“I think it also time to acknowledge that we have a titan and a modern great in Ashwin in our midst,” veteran commentator Harsha Bhogle wrote on Twitter.
“We are so proud of him. He really lifted our mood after a depressing year due to the lockdown,” said Venkata Kumar, a 40-year-old supporter who went to the stadium on all four days.
“Ashwin’s performance was brilliant. He bowled, he batted and yes he smiled and of course India won.”
Another fan, wearing an M.S. Dhoni jersey, said: “Nothing better to see a home player do well. It’s like Dhoni winning it for Chennai.”
The south Indian city has idolised former national captain Dhoni since he became leader of the IPL side Chennai Super Kings in 2008.
Though he is from the eastern state of Jharkhand, t-shirts with Dhoni’s name dominate sports shops across the city.
Ashwin recalled a 2013 Test in Chennai against Australia when Dhoni got a double century and he took 12 wickets.
“It was a dream to play a Test at Chepauk and fans cheer for me,” said Ashwin.
“But that was different, the crowd was encouraging me as a youngster in the team. But the feeling this time was different. I had made my last hundred (against West Indies) in 2016. This century came after almost five years.”
Victory threw the series wide open again, but much of India is already looking ahead to the T20 World Cup to be held in the country this year.
“I am very realistic. I have been out of the white-ball team for the last three-and-a-half years,” said Ashwin, who plays for Delhi Capitals in the IPL.
“Every time I have got an opportunity in the IPL, I have put a very earnest attempt and contributed in whatever way I can. If the team deems it fit and if I get the opportunity, I will give it my best crack.”
Ashwin last played a T20 for India in June 2017.