London – Many of South Africa’s premier international
cricketers hardly need reminding about Ravichandran Ashwin.
It was little more than a year and a half back that India’s tall off-spinner inflicted unusual degrees of misery on the Proteas in a Test series on the Subcontinent.
Admittedly on a few crumbling, lottery-like surfaces that received howls of protest from South Africans and also more broadly, Ashwin ran amok in the four-Test 2015 series where he claimed 31 wickets at a quite fairy-tale average of 11.12 in the host nation’s 3-0 triumph.
It was a tour that left mental scars on a handful of the visiting batsmen for several months afterwards.
And suddenly Ashwin, albeit this time at limited-overs level, shapes up once again as a potentially pivotal element in the final Group B game for both sides at the ICC Champions Trophy on Sunday, where victory at The Oval for either ensures onward passage to the semi-finals -- and an early ticket home for the other.
One person who has little doubt the 30-year-old Ashwin will make his slightly belated first appearance at the tournament is former SA captain Shaun Pollock.
Speaking to Sport24 at a media event near the ground here on Friday marking his role as a Nissan brand ambassador, Pollock said India would be hugely tempted to alter their attack after one or two of their seamers took an undignified pasting from the Sri Lankan batsmen en route to the seven-wicket reverse in a high-scoring clash on Thursday.
“I was quite surprised at just how well Sri Lanka played … it was a really good surface, and the same one will be used on Sunday.
“I’m sure India will change their side; I think they will bring Ashwin in to create some variation, especially after the way we played against the (Pakistan) spinners. It would make sense for them to get more spin options in.”
Should that occur, one bit of comfort is that Ashwin, who last played at ODI level against England at Kolkata in January, has a markedly less impressive 50-overs record against the Proteas than he does in Tests.
He has played six ODIs against South Africa, with a return of five wickets at 54.20.
That said, his best performance came on the last occasion when these foes locked horns in an ICC multinational event, the 2015 World Cup – Ashwin bagged figures of 10-0-41-3 in Melbourne as the Proteas were rather humbled by 130 runs in their worst showing of the pool stage.
Pollock, nevertheless, remains upbeat about the chances of AB de Villiers’s outfit completing qualification for the semis on Sunday – they would have a particularly inviting match against unfancied Bangladesh at Edgbaston if they beat India to top their pool and England knock out Australia on Saturday.
He admitted the defeat to Pakistan had not been ideal, making the India fixture an effective quarter-final instead of it having the potential to be a slightly lower-stress outing for South Africa.
“Look, at some stage of this tournament you have to face the elimination possibility. So we’re really just facing that (scenario) one game earlier than if we’d got safely into the semis already.
“But my thinking is also that we haven’t actually fired properly as yet … which is a good thing.
“In previous tournaments we have sometimes fired up front and then fallen by the wayside later on. This time, we’re in a situation where if we win three games in a row, we’ve won the trophy.
“So I wouldn’t be too worried; there are also a few guys in our ranks who haven’t performed as well as they would have liked and will be keen to get going (on Sunday).”
*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing