Ravichandran Ashwin is like flowing water. Always changing, always moving, taking in stuff as he goes, not always running clear, growing and then sometimes rapidly changing course too. He is hard to predict and few would dare cross him.
The bowler we see today is markedly different from the one who made his Test debut in 2011, and one isn’t just talking from the fitness point of view. Rather, here’s a guy who’s learned to look past his physical drawbacks and focus purely on the positive; focus purely on the art.
As the off-spinner went past Kapil Dev in the all-time wicket-takers tally, he would have been particularly pleased. That number, 434, is one that so many of us grew up cherishing – it was the peak. Just as Gavaskar’s total of 10,122 runs was forever embedded in our minds, so was Kapil’s tally. Two Indians standing on the very top of world cricket and given that Ashwin has a feel for history, it would have no doubt felt special.
It wasn’t just Kapil he went by either. Hadlee and Herath also fell by the wayside and, now, only eight bowlers have now taken more wickets than Ashwin in the history of the game.
|M Muralitharan (ICC/SL)||1992-2010||133||800||22.72||55.0||67||22|
|SK Warne (AUS)||1992-2007||145||708||25.41||57.4||37||10|
|JM Anderson (ENG)||2003-2022||169||640||26.58||56.8||31||3|
|A Kumble (INDIA)||1990-2008||132||619||29.65||65.9||35||8|
|GD McGrath (AUS)||1993-2007||124||563||21.64||51.9||29||3|
|SCJ Broad (ENG)||2007-2022||152||537||27.80||56.9||19||3|
|CA Walsh (WI)||1984-2001||132||519||24.44||57.8||22||3|
|DW Steyn (SA)||2004-2019||93||439||22.95||42.3||26||5|
|R Ashwin (INDIA)||2011-2022||85||436||24.26||52.5||30||7|
|N Kapil Dev (INDIA)||1978-1994||131||434||29.64||63.9||23||2|
|HMRKB Herath (SL)||1999-2018||93||433||28.07||60.0||34||9|
|Sir RJ Hadlee (NZ)||1973-1990||86||431||22.29||50.8||36||9|
Ashwin isn’t driven by the landmarks. He appreciates them. But still, to keep getting better; to keep flowing, one needs a goal... and that is what Anil Kumble would now represent.
Kumble’s tally of 619 wickets seems a fair distance away but if Ashwin can get on a roll and stay fit... one never knows. The off-spinner takes 5.13 wickets per match at the moment and if he can keep up that rate, he would need 4-5 good years of Test cricket to catch up with Kumble.
No one else in world cricket has come close to Ashwin’s strike-rate in recent times and that is saying something.
Highest Average Wickets per Match
|1||S F Barnes||England||1901-1914||27||189||16.43||9/103||24||7||7.00|
|2||J J Ferris||England||1887-1892||9||61||12.70||7/37||6||1||6.78|
|4||G A Lohmann||England||1886-1896||18||112||10.76||9/28||9||5||6.22|
|5||M Muralitharan||Sri Lanka||1992-2010||133||800||22.73||9/51||67||22||6.02|
|6||C T B Turner||Australia||1887-1895||17||101||16.53||7/43||11||2||5.94|
|7||C V Grimmett||Australia||1925-1936||37||216||24.22||7/40||21||7||5.84|
|8||J V Saunders||Australia||1902-1908||14||79||22.73||7/34||6||0||5.64|
|9||A P Freeman||England||1924-1929||12||66||25.86||7/71||5||3||5.50|
|10||W J O'Reilly||Australia||1932-1946||27||144||22.60||7/54||11||3||5.33|
|13||F R Spofforth||Australia||1877-1887||18||94||18.41||7/44||7||4||5.22|
Still the task ahead of Ashwin is not easy. He is already 35 and playing for another 4-5 years will demand a great effort from him. Kumble’s age at the time of retirement was 37 and a finger injury helped him make that decision.
“The body was asking questions every day,” Kumble had then said. “It was not easy to keep bowling the way I have been bowling the last 18 years, to keep going. The injury I had on the third day probably helped me make the decision.”
For Ashwin, the challenge is double. He has his fitness issues to deal with and he hasn’t always been India’s first-choice spinner in ‘away’ Tests. So while the home season means a lot of wickets, the away gains are limited by the fewer playing opportunities.
Will a change in captaincy though, lead to a change in that area too? Ravindra Jadeja obviously lends a better balance to the side but Ashwin is clearly the better spinner. So what will Rohit Sharma want more?
“I have been watching Ashwin for a long time now and he seems to get better and better,” said Rohit Sharma after India’s big win in the first Test against Sri Lanka. “Ashwin is one of those players who always has confidence in their ability. He played a crucial innings with the bat as well. Put on a big crucial partnership with Jadeja too.”
Rohit added: “I can’t tell you why Ashwin didn’t find a place in the overseas Test as I was not captain and don’t know the reasoning behind the decision. So I can’t shed any light on that.”
But in a rather ironic way, the improved batting might help Ashwin get into the playing XI away from home too. Not his bowling but instead, his consistent batting.
These questions, though, are perhaps better saved for when India start to travel again and for now, we can celebrate a cricketer whose pursuit of excellence is second to none.