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HomeSportsR. Ashwin: The formidable match-winner enters the 500-wickets club

R. Ashwin: The formidable match-winner enters the 500-wickets club

Ravichandran Ashwin became the second Indian bowler, after Anil Kumble, to pick up 500 Test wickets when England opener Zak Crawley top-edged a sweep to be caught at leg-slip on the second day of the third Test at the Niranjan Shah Stadium in Rajkot.

Ashwin has consistently proven to be a formidable match-winner for the Indian cricket team, particularly excelling in home matches.

Notably, his effectiveness against left-handed batters has added an extra dimension to his bowling prowess. Of Ashwin’s 501 Test wickets, 250 are of left-hand batters. No other bowler has dismissed left-handers as many times. James Anderson is second on the list with 217 wickets against left-handers. They are the only two bowlers to dismiss left-hand batters 200 times in Tests.

The aspect of Ashwin’s career that stands out more than any other is his record at home: 348 wickets in 59 Tests at an average of 21.22. But it would be remiss if we spoke about Ashwin’s impact without talking about his bowling partner, Ravindra Jadeja. India’s current spin duo has already racked up better numbers than its illustrious predecessors, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.

In the 52 Tests (before the Ranchi Test) that they have played together, Ashwin and Jadeja have collectively taken 520 wickets at a combined bowling average of 21.54. In the 43 home Tests, their numbers improve marginally: 448 wickets at 21.18. In comparison, Kumble and Harbhajan have a combined tally of 501 wickets from 54 Tests at a collective bowling average of 30.48. In the 34 home Tests, their numbers are thus: 356 wickets at a combined average of 27.47.

What further enamours Ashwin’s feat of 500 Test wickets is that India’s dominance over the last half-decade has been built around its incisive pace battery, spearheaded by all-condition quicks Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. This also meant that Ashwin has had to warm the bench on a few occasions, with India tending to pick a seam-bowling all-rounder, like Shardul Thakur, for No. 8, while going in with just one spinner, often Jadeja, in places such as South Africa, England, and Australia. Kumble and Harbhajan played 20 Tests outside India, while Ashwin and Jadeja played just eight together.

All-round ability: Ashwin also has five Test hundreds to his name, the last of which came against England in Chennai in 2021.

All-round ability: Ashwin also has five Test hundreds to his name, the last of which came against England in Chennai in 2021.
| Photo Credit:
VIJAY SONEJI

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All-round ability: Ashwin also has five Test hundreds to his name, the last of which came against England in Chennai in 2021.
| Photo Credit:
VIJAY SONEJI

Ashwin serves as both the attacking focal point and the creative hub of this team.

Despite his integral role, ongoing discussions have always revolved around his effectiveness at the age of 37.

The highly skilled off-spinner is often evaluated within the limited scope of his ability to influence matches in unfamiliar conditions. His exclusion from the playing XI in last year’s World Test Championship final against Australia exemplifies the team’s ‘horses for courses’ approach, despite Ashwin being India’s leading wicket-taker in the WTC cycle.

This decision resulted in Ashwin missing six Test matches, including a pivotal five-Test series in England. His last appearance in England was in the 2021 WTC final in Southampton, where he had commendable figures of 25-10-45-4.

Ashwin’s skill with the new ball sets him apart as a spinner with versatility, beyond typical spin attributes.

With the new ball, he bowls a swerving delivery with an upright seam and, through intelligent use of the crease, adeptly challenges both edges of the bat. He has opened the bowling in 50 innings in Test cricket, snapping up 165 wickets at an average of 19.36, reaffirming his efficacy as a new-ball bowler.

Ashwin has brought a unique flair to cricket. His clever run-outs, and tactical retirements showcase his innovative approach to the ever-changing game. He has shown time and again that the beauty of his craft is its reward. The 10 Player-of-the-Series awards, one shy of Muttiah Muralitharan’s record 11, attest to it.

It is easy to go overboard here and get drunk on superlatives while talking about athletes like Ashwin. Just as it is also easy to become inured by repetition to the pitch of Ashwin’s brilliance, there has always been a sense of that little something in Ashwin’s talent that never reached its end point.

It is conceivable that Ashwin himself shares this sentiment, as evident in his unwavering resolve. Rather than sulking over defeat, he appears to use setbacks as opportunities to regroup and press forward.

Stern assessment: The highly skilled off-spinner is often evaluated within the limited scope of his ability to influence matches in unfamiliar conditions.

Stern assessment: The highly skilled off-spinner is often evaluated within the limited scope of his ability to influence matches in unfamiliar conditions.
| Photo Credit:
K.V.S. Giri

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Stern assessment: The highly skilled off-spinner is often evaluated within the limited scope of his ability to influence matches in unfamiliar conditions.
| Photo Credit:
K.V.S. Giri

Beyond the mere act of delivering overs, Ashwin engages in a contest with his opponents, inviting them to a closely contested battle of wits, seeking to establish dominance in his sporting domain.

Ashwin also has five Test hundreds to his name, the last of which came against England in Chennai in 2021. That innings made him the first all-rounder since Garry Sobers at Headingley in 1966 to take five wickets and score a century against England.

Coming back to Rajkot, at the close of play on Day 2, he said: “It has been quite a long journey. Firstly, I’d like to dedicate the final wicket to my father. He’s been through the thick and thin of everything I’ve done in my life. He’s been a constant support for me.” But then to business. “Five hundred wickets are done and dusted now; we’ve got a game hanging in the balance.”

Just a few hours later, the BCCI announced Ashwin had withdrawn from the Test because of a family emergency. He would later return to bowl India to a 2-1 series lead on the fourth day, securing his place among the game’s royalty.



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