Ravichandran Ashwin is slowly but surely becoming India’s most crucial player, more so than anyone in the team. In a team filled with brilliant players like Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Murali Vijay, etc, Ashwin has cemented his place as a very influential figure. His rise in the last 18 months or so, since the 2015 World Cup has been nothing short of incredible. At the time of writing, R Ashwin has a staggering number of 21 five-wicket hauls in 39 Tests. He recently achieved the feat of being the 2nd quickest ever bowler to reach 200 wickets and became India’s fastest ever, by quite a comfortable margin.
He has a record number of seven ‘Man of the Series’ awards in his relatively short career, so far. He has been a relentless match winner for the Indian team ever since he made his Test debut in 2012. Not only has he been impressive with the ball, he has done a really effective job with the bat, too. He averages close to 35 with the bat and has four Test hundreds. Thanks to his consistent displays with the bat, he has earned a promotion in the batting order and has been batting at No.6 whenever India play with five bowlers, or at No.7 when India decide to go with the traditional system of playing with four bowlers.
In a recent interview, Ashwin said how his batting and bowling aspects of his game have improved in the recent past, “It is interesting… I haven’t really worked that much on both skills at the same time. I tend to take time off bowling on a break and work on my batting. When I go to the camp with the Indian team, I bowl a lot and reduce my batting loads. It is difficult to manage both simultaneously. I have been working extremely hard on my fitness because that’s the only thing that will keep me going. In the past, my bowling has helped me in my batting. But this time it was a clear case of trying to isolate both. What tends to happen is when you get a five wicket haul, you feel like you can get a hundred but play one too many shots. It was clear in my mind I wanted to keep both skills isolated so that I can really focus and stick to a game plan.”
To highlight how Ashwin has improved by leaps and bounds, this piece of stat indicates his progress. Ashwin’s bowling average in Tests since 2015 is 18.86, the best for any bowler with at least 50 wickets during this time. His strike rate of 38.6 is only marginally lower than Mitchell Starc and has struck most frequently among bowlers with at least 50 wickets during this period. India have played and won series in Sri Lanka and West Indies and in both of the tours, Ashwin was named as the Man of the series. When the then-world number one side South Africa visited India last year, Ashwin was once again the main man for India as he contributed significantly with bat and ball. In the ongoing series vs New Zealand, Ashwin has picked 27 wickets and led India to a comprehensive 3-0 win.
In an another interesting bit of stat, there have been only 2 Bowlers who reached 20 five-wicket hauls in fewer Tests than Ashwin. Sydney Barnes had taken those many in 25 Tests and Clarrie Grimmett in 37 Tests. Ashwin is currently 30 years old and has a good 5 or 6 years ahead of him with him right now being in his absolute peak of his powers. There is absolutely no doubt that Ashwin has been one of the primary reasons why India have become the No.1 Test side in the world, and if they’re to stay there for a long period of time, it is vital that Ashwin continues to perform the way he is doing now.
There are ten more Tests left for India in this season which gives an ample opportunity for Ashwin to edge closer to the 300 wickets mark. With weather permitting and staying injury free, with his team mates putting enough runs on the board to put scoreboard pressure on the opposition and with tight bowling from the other end; chances are really bright for Ashwin to complete the 300 landmark by the end of the home season.
All in all, things are looking bright for both India and Ashwin on a personal level, and this only bodes well for the future.