Cheteshwar Pujara has elaborated on how R Ashwin plotted Steve Smith’s dismissal on the 2020/21 tour of Australia.

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R Ashwin had an ordinary record in Australia until the 2020/21 tour: his seven Test matches across three series had fetched him 27 wickets at 48.07.

He had significantly done better at home, but on Australia’s previous tour of India, in 2016/17, Steve Smith had made 499 runs from four Test matches at 71.28 with three hundreds. Before the 2020/21 series, Smith averaged 62.84 in Test cricket, and his was the key wicket to take.

In the first Test, a day-nighter at Adelaide, Ashwin had Smith caught at first slip for a solitary run in the first innings. Australia needed only 90 to win the match, leaving no time for a second duel between the pair.

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Australia batted first in the second Test match, at Melbourne. After Jasprit Bumrah and Umesh Yadav were done in their first spell, stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane held debutant Mohammed Siraj back and brought Ashwin on first-change in the 11th over as part of a plan.

“No detail is too small for his sharp mind. He [Ashwin] has spoken previously about how he obsessively pored over videos of Steve Smith several months before India’s tour of Australia in 2020/21,” recalled Cheteshwar Pujara in his column for ESPNcricinfo.

“Before the Melbourne Test, I remember we chalked out the plan of having a leg gully against Smith because there was a bit of moisture, which made the ball hold a bit. And that is the reason Ash ended up bowling with the new ball.”

Matthew Wade played an inexplicable slog off Ashwin’s second over and perished. Smith walked out with a ball left, but the batters had switched ends, and Ashwin bowled to Marnus Labuschagne. In Ashwin’s next over, Labuschagne got a run off the first ball.

“Part of the plan was also that he would come round the stumps to create the angle,” noted Pujara, whom Rahane had placed at leg gully. Ashwin stuck to the plan. Smith tried to leg-glance, but it turned too much, and the batters ran two byes.

Bumrah had denied Smith runs at the other end. Seven balls into the innings, Smith was yet to score a run. Now, Ashwin’s round-the-wicket angle and Smith’s usual shuffle brought the latter into a position to play the leg-glance again despite the leg gully.

He ended up playing the ball straight to Pujara.

“I probably haven’t played Ashwin as well as I would’ve liked. I probably would’ve liked to have put him under a bit more pressure,” Smith told SEN Radio after the Test match. “I’ve sort of let him dictate terms and that’s something I’ve probably never let any spinner do in my career. I’ve sort of taken it to them, been a bit more aggressive and made them change things.”

Ashwin dismissed Smith in the second innings of the next Test match as well, at Sydney, but he missed the series decider at Brisbane.