India offspinner R Ashwin believes stifling the attacking instincts of Australia's captain and vice-captain, Steven Smith and David Warner, will be the key to India's success in the four-Test series against Australia, which starts in Pune next week.
"I had some duels with Warner and the world knows they are great batsmen," Ashwin told the Times of India. "But as I said, the key to this series is how well we start off.
"More often than not, it's about wearing the opposition down and if you can start doing that from the beginning, it gets easier towards the end. I know that Smith and Warner will play in their free-spirited fashion and if we can curb their natural instinct, play to our strengths and make them play to the pace that we want them to play, we will do a fine job."
After the ICC had rated the Nagpur pitch for the India-South Africa Test poor [the game finished inside three days], India's home Tests over the last year-and-a-half have featured few surfaces that offer excess turn from the start with variable bounce. Ashwin said the nature of pitches was "not a big deal" for him, but felt the well-rolled pitches would help Australia's batsmen, many of whom have never played a Test in India.
"I think they will come prepared for what is in store. I was having a talk with (umpire) Kumar Dharmasena the other day on how differently they prepare pitches in Sri Lanka than they do it in India," Ashwin said. "He was saying that the Indian curators roll the pitches to an extent that they go completely dead, something that Sri Lankans don't. I think Sri Lanka produces some of the best wickets around the world while ours are slower in nature. But then, the Aussies will have to come to terms with the slowness of the Indian pitches, something that they are not used to."
Over the last year and a half, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have become captain Virat Kohli's go-to strike force. Since the start of the West Indies tour in August 2016, they have accounted for 127 wickets out of a total of 222 wickets in 13 Tests. Ashwin felt Jadeja's unrelenting accuracy helped him get a little more creative at the other end.
"Jadeja is one who will not give anything away. That gives me the luxury to extend my imagination a lot more," he said. "There are pockets of the game when we don't get wickets and that is the time when I try to make things happen. During the Kanpur Test against New Zealand, Mitchell Santer and Luke Ronchi were going very well. Jadeja was bowling a tight line and I bowled a ball outside the leg-stump of Santner and got him to nick to gully on a slow pitch.
"Those are exactly my strengths and when I don't offer the same things over and over again, they try to do things to get the runs away and makes mistakes. So Jadeja and me, bowling the way we do, create opportunities for each other."
While Australia's pace attack, led by Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood, has been talked up as the biggest threat confronting India, Ashwin felt Nathan Lyon and the rest of Australia's spinners could not be taken lightly.
"Nathan Lyon is a fine bowler. He got a seven-for in New Delhi in the last Test Australia played against India," he said. "He puts a lot of revs on the ball and we can't take anything for granted. Then they have Ashton Agar, Steven O' Keefe and they are no spring chickens and are pretty good bowlers and we have to play out of our skins. And don't forget, we are always playing that one batsman short all the time."
When Ashwin was asked if he was surprised at not being the vice-captain despite being a direct selection across formats, he said he led without a title by playing key roles in India's wins. "I have really crossed that stage, where I think I deserved this or being faced with decisions that is not in my hands," he told The Hindu. "I lead without a title. I end up playing a crucial part in most matches which India wins.
"If there are some parameters cricket adapts, a lot of things will be different around cricket. But unfortunately cricket is not as professional as it should be. I have got to the stage where I have realised, I am not here to change the whole thing, but if it is possible for me to change things, I will. As of now, I am at peace with myself.
"To be honest, I am not even sure if I want to be a vice-captain. I do a lot of hard work. So to try and think at what is not coming my way is way too demanding on my mind."