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The Curious Case of Ravichandran Ashwin -- Better Than World's Best All-rounders

The Curious Case of Ravichandran Ashwin -- Better Than World's Best All-rounders

The most compelling performer this international season has been Ravichandran Ashwin. His mesmerizing off-spin has set up, if not won matches outright for India. With bat, he’s saved a Test, showing courage and commitment in excruciating circumstances. He’s also helped win one Test with a flamboyant knock that had everyone gushing in admiration.

  • Ayaz Memon
  • Updated: February 19, 2021, 10:38 AM IST

The most compelling performer this international season has been Ravichandran Ashwin. His mesmerizing off-spin has set up, if not won matches outright for India. With bat, he’s saved a Test, showing courage and commitment in excruciating circumstances. He’s also helped win one Test with a flamboyant knock that had everyone gushing in admiration.

Ashwin has been pivotal in India’s successes this season. In Australia and now at home, his contributions have been timely: if not enormous in terms of numbers, highly influential in the outcome of the match. Every time a crisis loomed, or opportunity to get the upper hand has arrived, he has stood up to play a crucial hand, with ball or bat.

He’s got a whopping 29 wickets in five matches (till the second Test against England) and also scored 237 runs. No other player this season has figures to match. Kyle Jamieson has been terrific too as an all-rounder, but his successes have all come at home and, without undermining his performances, against somewhat weak opponents.

India’s had two grueling contests in this period: an away series against Australia (thirsting for revenge), and an ambitious England side that has come to these shores after an emphatic 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka. In both these series, Ashwin’s been stellar in bowling and batting or both. In Australia he had 12 wickets in three Tests. He not only upstaged Aussie Nathan Lyon, who many considered the world’s best spinner, but his incisive bowling in Melbourne – allied with skipper Rahane’s brilliant century -- helped India draw level after the ignominy of 36 all out at Adelaide, which finally led to the extraordinary series win at Brisbane.

With bat, Ashwin’s contribution in Australia are not statistically hefty. He made just 79 runs. But 39 of these came from a heroic, unbeaten knock which helped save the Sydney Test in the company of Hanuma Vihari, defying all odds. A draw was a massive psychological win for India. Taking confidence and inspiration from this match (though Ashwin didn’t play), India’s bruised and battered team astonished the world by turning the tables on the Aussies in the last Test.

In two Tests against England, Ashwin has 19 wickets already and has scored 159 runs, including the exhilarating 106 in the second innings. This was his fifth hundred, and without doubt his best. Where he showed tenacity in Sydney, at Chepauk, on a turning pitch which most batsmen found difficult to cope with, Ashwin played with assurance as if he was from the top order, not no. 8!

There has been an extra edge to Ashwin’s cricket in the Tests he has played so far this season. Some part of this obviously to do with experience. He’s been around for almost a decade. But what’s perhaps more important is the change in mental make-up.

He’s not looked overwrought this season, as he sometimes would in the past, and far more in control, especially in bowling, but also batting. He’s always been known as a `cerebral’ cricketer, but as Ashwin admits, he was perhaps guilty of overthinking about his game.

While this revealed passion and a desire to excel, it didn’t necessarily help on the field. To actualize deep ambition, a steady head is equally important. Ashwin this season has looked to be a man in charge of his emotions, goals well defined, ambition to excel refueled, skills and tactics in harness for a successful quest.

In Australia and against England, what we’ve seen is not just a hugely talented and successful off-spinner, but a spin maestro, bringing out his vast repertoire of wile, guile and skills with immaculate control to harry and harass accomplished batsmen like Smith, Warner, Labuschagne, Root and Stokes.

Every time he’s had the ball in hand, it has appeared Ashwin has a plan ready on how to get these batsmen out. He says he spent the lockdown period visualizing various confrontation scenarios with these batsmen beforehand, and worked out the line, length, angles and extent of turn to probe them. It’s paid off splendidly, for it seemed he could read their minds!

He had Smith on tenterhooks right through the three Tests he played. This was particularly crucial in the first two. With Smith stymied, Australia were half the batting side they could have been, and were compelled to get into a battle of attrition, which suited India just fine.

Against England, it’s been different only in the adjustment to Indian pitches: calibrating length, line and angles needed for turning tracks. But the impact on opponents has been similar. Joe Root’s superb double century apart, no batsman has looked comfortable against Ashwin’s impeccable control and seemingly endless variations which has left the best batsmen searching.

His bowling success has beneficially impacted Ashwin’s performances with the bat. A frontline batsman in his formative years, Ashwin seems to have rediscovered the mojo for scoring runs after a couple of barren years. He’s fairly sound of technique, a sweet timer of the ball, and can switch from defence to attack without stress and strain, which is bad news for opponents as England discovered to their chagrin in the second Test at Chepauk.

Statistics do not always reflect a player’s true mettle, but in Ashwin’s case – as with so many all-time greats – these do. In 77 Tests, he has 394 wickets. He has taken 5 wickets in an innings 29 times and 10 wickets in a match 7 times already.

These are stunning figures even without taking into account 2626 runs with 5 centuries and 11 half-centuries and establishes his credentials as a genuine all-rounder. He can only be ranked after he finishes playing, of course. But in the Indian context, he is demanding to be put in the same cluster as Vinoo Mankad and Kapil Dev.



Team Rankings

RankTeamPointsRating
1 New Zealand 3198 118
2 Australia 3028 116
3 India 3085 114
4 England 4326 106
5 South Africa 2499 96
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RankTeamPointsRating
1 England 5405 123
2 India 6102 117
3 New Zealand 3716 116
4 Australia 4344 111
5 South Africa 3345 108
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RankTeamPointsRating
1 England 6877 275
2 Australia 6800 272
3 India 10186 268
4 Pakistan 7516 259
5 South Africa 5047 252
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