In the last 35 years, the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble have shattered many records in Test cricket but none of them could break the record of being the fastest to 300 Test wickets which was held by the Australian great Dennis Lillee since 1981. Finally Ravichandran Ashwin has accomplished this feat with great aplomb and hopes to double his Test numbers.
Ashwin has broken Lillee’s record but now the real challenge is to break Muralitharan’s record to being the fastest to 400, 500, 600, 700 and hold your breath, yes 800 Test wickets! If R Ashwin can beat Murali in at least two out of the five races, it will indeed be a great accomplishment!
In 2016, Ashwin could have easily equaled an 80 year old record which is still held by the Australian great Clarrie Grimmett. The fourth Test against the West Indies in August 2016 was restricted to just 22 overs due to an unsatisfactory outfield in Trinidad and it denied Ashwin a golden opportunity to become the fastest to achieve 200 Test wickets.
India’s 500th Test in Kanpur eventually saw Ashwin become the second fastest bowler in the history of the game to get 200 Test wickets. However, Ashwin didn’t lose heart. He got another great opportunity to go past the legendary Lillee who had the distinction of getting 300 Test wickets in just 56 matches. After the Kolkata Test against New Zealand, Ashwin had 207 wickets and he needed just 93 wickets in the next 17 matches. Going by his outstanding home record (around 7 wickets per match), it was always likely that he was going to achieve this before South Africa tour. And eventually it has happened.
“Ashwin wins you matches single-handedly. A thinking cricketer who is always striving to improve and someone who has been doing the same thing to his craft just like Kohli has been doing with his batting,” said VVS Laxman to the author a few months back.
“I am a huge fan of his remarkable ability to change the course of a game in just a session. He can pick up five wickets in five overs and can change the game on its head,” added Kapil Dev.
Experts might be hailing his feats, rivals may be acknowledging his stunning resurgence but Ashwin knows cricket is a great leveler. In order to become an accomplished player, he has to go through some tough phases too.
“I constantly compete with myself. You go out and try and beat records, or try to catch up with records; it’s always going to teach you a lesson. That’s something that Test cricket taught me pretty early in my career – that how quickly it can set you back a couple of years,” said Ashwin during the Kanpur Test in one his interactions with the press last year.
It is clearly evident that the torturous Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg (December 2013) is still hurting him. Ashwin had bowled 26 overs across the three sessions without a wicket and failed to win a Test match for India when he was expected to deliver. He was not part of the Test XI for the next six Tests that India played in countries like South Africa, New Zealand and England. If Ravindra Jadeja became the main spinner for captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, then Virat Kohli too preferred a rookie like Karn Sharma over him in his debut Test as captain at Adelaide in 2014.
Ashwin has come a long way since then. Very few Indian bowlers are as dominating in a Test when Ashwin is on song. Ashwin has already seven (10 wicket haul in a match) and in all likelihood will overtake Kumble’s record of eight (10 wicket hauls in 132 Tests).
Often, home pitch advantages are held against Ashwin while assessing his greatness. Former India spinner Rajesh Chauhan argues that even if pitches are helpful, what is the point of being apologetic about? “Who doesn’t take home advantage? Why hesitate in giving credit where it’s due,” asks the Bhillai based Chauhan.
Despite India being known as the land of spinners, the likes of Arshad Ayub (13 Tests 41 wickets), Chauhan (21 Test, 47 wickets) and Ghulam Ahmad (22 Tests 68 wickets) from the past haven’t had great success as off-spinners.
Apart from Harbhajan, Prasanna and Srinivas Venkat Raghvan, the only off-spinner to go past 100 wickets barrier is Shivlal Yadav (35 Tests, 102 wickets). Ashwin is already among India’s all-time top 5 wicket takers and will soon go past Zaheer Khan’s 311 wickets.
“Ashwin is constantly looking to add to his repertoire, which is a great sign. It also shows that he is keen to continue his evolution as a strike bowler,” says former India great Laxman.
Even if he retires today, Ashwin will be hailed as one of India’s greatest match winners. No one has won more Man of the Series awards than him in Test cricket. The fact that he has played a significantly less number of series’ in comparison to Sachin Tendulkar (74) and Virender Sehwag (39) gives you a sense of the magnitude of the achievement.
With 7 Man of the Series awards in just 19 series, the Tamil Nadu spinner has enough time to go past Mutthiah Muralitharan’s world record of 11 awards in 61 series.
If you take a closer look at Ashwin’s progress in the Test cricket, it is quite apparent that he is among the most destructive spinners in the world. For spinners who have got over 150 Test wickets, Ashwin’s current strike rate is the best. However, his real challenge has just begun as he will face one of his sternest tests on the upcoming South Africa tour.