Exactly two years ago around the New Year’s Day Test, we were witnessing a possible decline of Ravichandran Ashwin’s Test career. Young and energetic Kuldeep Yadav picked up a five-wicket haul at the SCG and coach Ravi Shashtri proclaimed him to be the number one Test spinner ahead of both Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
It wasn’t the skills of R Ashwin which were questioned at this stage, rather his ability to stay fit through the course of an entire Test series. He had failed to last the last two overseas Test series in England and Australia in 2018 and the team management seemed frustrated with the off-spinner’s injury record. On both these occasions, Ashwin started on a promising note but soon went out of the steam come the third and the fourth Test of the series.
For a large part of Ashwin’s career, he has been called as a bully in home conditions and labelled not good enough on overseas tours. It’s baffling how a player who is India’s second-best spinner of all time according to the numbers he has achieved and a person who has won the most number of Man of the Series awards in the Test format for India has been criticised so heavily for the majority of his career.
He has for long been asked to do something he isn’t great at. When people witnessed Moeen Ali having a magical series against India back in 2014, there was frustration as to why R Ashwin wasn’t able to replicate what his counterpart was doing. What people miss out in these instances is that Moeen Ali had an attack of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes constantly causing issues to the Indian batsmen from the other end. These aforementioned bowlers are brilliant in their home English conditions and the Indian batters had to target the favourable spin of Moeen Ali to score some runs. That’s where they lost the plot and ended up gifting 19 wickets to Moeen in the series. Ashwin, on the other hand, was a part of the bowling line up which were constantly conceding massive runs and the batters weren’t giving enough rest time to their bowlers either.
Ever since India’s pace attack can stare eye-to-eye with the opposition bowling line ups and even outbowl them on numerous occasions, Ashwin looks like a completely different animal in overseas conditions. It’s not to say that Ashwin hasn’t improved his skills for one moment. He is a far improved bowler from the one who got a call in the 2011-2012 tour to play as India’s leading spinner ahead of the ‘Turbanator’ Harbhajan Singh in Australia.
This is Ashwin’s fourth tour Down Under and has come at the best possible time for the man from down south. During the lockdown, he got an opportunity to give his body a deserved break and recoup mentally as well. He seems in a far better space and the joy of playing cricket seems pretty evident on his face. This was particularly evident when he managed to find the outside edge of Steve Smith’s bat in the first Test at the Adelaide Oval. His celebration run showed how much that wicket meant to him. Since then, Ashwin has had Smith’s number in the series and the leg side trap against Australia’s best batsman is working wonderfully well.
He has worked tirelessly on his bowling and now in these bouncy conditions, he’s looking to exploit bounce more than spin. There’s a constant emphasis on trying to impart some overspin on the ball and that has worked pretty well so far in the series. He’s trying to mix his pace up quite often as well and that is causing issues to the batsmen as they have to constantly adjust to every ball. From the outside, it seems like he plans meticulously against each batsman and now has the skill to execute it perfectly on the ground.
The best part about Ashwin the cricketer is that he is a constant thinker of the game. He has always been confident of the skills he possesses and is constantly trying to evolve his game with time. Now at 34 years of age, he is quite at the peak of his cricketing career and almost every ball which is released from his hand is pinpoint accurate and does exactly what he wants the ball to do. This is any bowler’s dream phase to be in and for Indian cricket’s sake, we hope this continues for a long time for Ravichandran Ashwin.
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