Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXII No. 19, January 16-31, 2023
Before Ravichandran Ashwin exploded on the scene around a dozen years ago with immediate impact, Indian cricket had produced two world class all-rounders in Vinoo Mankad and Kapil Dev. Now it is crystal clear that with his ubiquitous qualities the 36-year-old from Chennai is not only the third world class all-rounder but is also among the leading cricketers in the contemporary game.
But has he received adequate recognition for his manifold achievements? One would like to think that the answer to the question would be negative for after being around for so long Ashwin is still made to feel that he is not a regular member of the side in any format despite having a proven record. He has been in and out of the side which is why he has played only 88 Tests, 113 ODIs and 65 T-20 internationals when in the normal course of things he should have figured in many more games. Not that it has bothered the phlegmatic Ashwin who whenever he has returned to the side has turned in a stellar performance either with bat or ball – sometimes with both.
To be candid Ashwin should never have had this feeling that he is always fighting for a place in the side. Simply put he is a great player, period. His achievements are numerous underscoring his unique contribution in the various formats but it is his Test record that stands out which is apt for Ashwin is an old school bowler with new and varied tricks. Having earned an engineering degree much like his illustrious predecessor from the same city S. Venkatraghavan, Ashwin is always considering various angles and theories. On the face of it, he may be listed as an off-spinner but he has a large repertoire of tricks that he uses to befuddle the best batting line-up. There is the carom ball, the slider, the vicious straighter one, the occasional leg-break and the conventional off-break – all bowled with minimal change of action and based on the twin basics of line and length. Not many bowlers have averaged five wickets a Test over as many as almost 90 games and Ashwin’s strike rate of 52.5 is up there with the best.
As I said his achievements are numerous and I shall just list a few of his greatest feats which puts him in proper perspective when placed alongside the best in 145 years of Test cricket. He is the fastest to 250 (45 Tests), 300 (56 Tests) and 350 wickets (66 Tests). He is the second fastest to 200 wickets (37 Tests) just one game behind the legendary Australian leg spinner Clarrie Grimmett. He is joint second in the list of most number of man of the series awards with nine (along with Jacques Kallis). He has performed the double feat of a century and five wickets in an innings in a Test three times. Only Ian Botham with five has done this on more occasions.
There are a number of other comparatively minor records that he is associated with and as far as Indian records are concerned one has virtually lost count of them. That he is an all-time Indian great has been known for some time. It is now time to acknowledge him as among the greats of the game. After all he recently joined five other legends – Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Shane Warne, Stuart Broad and Shaun Pollock – as cricketers who completed the double of 3,000 runs and 400 wickets. And with Ashwin at the peak of his form one can only say that his final figures will be those of the mind boggling and eye rubbing variety. Verily the sky is the limit for him.
But Ashwin should not just be judged by stats which though are thoroughly impressive. What has caught the eye is how cerebral he is as a cricketer. He is always thinking of ways of getting batsmen out. No one has ever thought more about the art and craft of spin bowling. He brings a geometrically exact science to bowling befitting an engineer. The same approach goes for setting his field or in analyzing an opponent’s strength and weakness. Little wonder then that he is talked about as a potential India captain even at 36. And why not for Anil Kumble became India’s captain at 37.
Ashwin’s mesmeric spells with the ball have at times camouflaged his superb work with the bat. In fact in only his third Test he came up with a hundred from No 8. Moreover a serious approach to batting and his textbook strokes marked him out as someone who could bat higher up the order. But with the middle order having the “houseful” board firmly struck upon it with a number of stalwarts around there was no way he could be accommodated in the middle order. Not that it bothered Ashwin who was happy taking wickets by the bucketful and adding more than his mite with the bat down the order, a major highlight being his record 280-run partnership with Rohit Sharma for the seventh wicket while batting for almost five hours for 124 against West Indies at Kolkata in 2013. While his batting was improving there were fears in some quarters that there might be a dip in his bowling standards. There was no need for such trepidation for Ashwin was obviously made of sterner stuff and has continued in the same vein now for years.
It is a tribute to Ashwin’s skill and application to various aspects of the game that he has lasted so long despite strong competition. He came in at a critical juncture when Kumble had retired and Harbhajan Singh was past his prime. He filled the lacuna admirably taking over as the No 1 spinner even as Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra were around. Then came Ravindra Jadeja who has proved to be almost as good. In the shorter formats he has had to face competition from youngsters Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav. But Ashwin mentally very strong, thrives on challenges and continues to be a force to reckon in all three formats. However his Test record will always be the jewel in the crown.