There can be little doubt that Ravichandran Ashwin has made it to the ranks of all-time great Indian cricketers. He achieves this exalted status on two grounds – as one of the outstanding spin bowlers even in a country with a glittering tradition of producing such bowlers and secondly as the finest all-rounder since Kapil Dev.
Later this year Ashwin completes a decade of Test cricket but of course he first played for India in the limited over formats in 2010. And while he has made significant contributions in both ODIs and T-20 internationals it is his stand-out performances in the game’s traditional format that elevates him to super star status. The number of records he has set along the way, the number of Player of the Match and Series awards he has won and the manner in which he has won Tests for India both with bat and ball makes him the key player in the post Sachin Tendulkar era.
Just as Anil Kumble’s feats were overshadowed by the presence of the most lustrous batting line-up in the game there is danger of Ashwin not getting his due because of Virat Kohli’s stupendous record with the bat. Suffice to say that the two have been the most important cricketers of the last decade as match winners and as players who have made the cricketing world sit up and take notice of their achievements.
Of course, Ashwin has one advantage over Kumble in that he is a much better bat. This way he is always the focus of attention on the cricket field. All the praise for his bowling – perfectly understandable given the mind boggling and eye rubbing stats associated with his name – should not camouflage the fact that he is a skillful batsman who has the technique and temperament to come good whatever the situation or the surface. His latest century in the Test against England at his home ground at Chepauk in February underlined this and served as the ultimate tribute to his ubiquitous qualities. After all a century and five wickets in an innings is the quintessential all-round performance and Ashwin has done it not once, not twice but three times. The fact that only Ian Botham is ahead of him having accomplished the feat five times puts things in the proper perspective.
Despite his heroics with the bat Ashwin’s chief claim to fame will still be his spin bowling which has been the subject of keen watching by experts. The number of variations he has and the manner in which he bamboozles the best of batsmen with his multi-faceted skills are a connoisseur’s delight. On his way to remarkable tally of 409 wickets from just 78 Tests Ashwin has set world records left, right and centre. His average, economy rate and strike rate compare favourably with the best of spinners and when one considers that these are the figures of not a specialist bowler but an all-rounder who has also notched up 2656 runs with five hundreds it all makes for something that could be straight out of the fiction books.
Ashwin turns 35 in September and if as the cricketing adage goes this is when a spin bowler really matures the world could really be his oyster. He is already getting better with age and now that he is out of the limited over squads – which in itself is a subject for debate as there are many who feel he is still good for the two formats – he is free to concentrate on Test cricket and add substantially to his tally of runs, wickets and world records while shaping many more notable Indian triumphs.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)