Ravichandran Ashwin barely broke into a sweat on day two of the second Test between India and New Zealand. Yet, he did enough to help dismantle the Kiwis as the hosts skittled New Zealand out for 62.
Ashwin has been one of India’s most potent bowling weapons for some time. He has picked up wickets for fun, flummoxed left-handed batters every day of the week and has carved a niche for himself in Indian cricketing folklore. On day two, Ashwin went past Shaun Pollock to become the 12th highest wicket-taker in Test cricket history, having done so at an average of 24.27 and a strike rate of 52.3.
Of those above Ashwin, only Dale Steyn, Glenn McGrath, Muttiah Muralitharan and Sir Richard Hadlee boast lower averages. As far as strike rates are concerned, no other spinner, including Muralitharan and Shane Warne, can hold better Ashwin. In fact, only McGrath, Steyn and Sir Richard Hadlee have taken more Test wickets than the Indian at a better strike rate.
In 2021, Ashwin has been almost incomparable. Courtesy of his four-wicket haul at Mumbai, he became the leading wicket taker in this year – having bagged 48 wickets at an average of 16.87 and a strike rate of 42.8. Only seven bowlers have taken more wickets at a lower average than Ashwin in a calendar year in the history of the game. The spinner is also the leading wicket-taker (61) in Test cricket since the start of 2020.
Ashwin has developed a habit of picking wickets in clusters and piling as much misery on the opposition as possible in a single year. Back in 2015, he amassed 62 wickets at an average of 17.2 and at a strike rate of 36.4.
While much of his success has come at home, Ashwin has become much more penetrative overseas of late. During India’s historic series triumph Down Under in 2020-21, Ashwin had the ball on a string. Before 2017, he was averaging a shade under 31.75 away from home – since the start of 2018, that number falls to 28.23.
In addition, Ashwin seems to have reverted to his early-career roots, with respect to his batting. It is quite easy to forget the value he adds with the willow, especially considering how irresistible he has been on the bowling front. However, Ashwin has contributed significantly to a couple of vital Indian victories.
In Sydney, when India were battling to save a Test, the off-spinner buckled down, shrugged off his lower back niggle and batted for over three hours to secure a much-needed draw. A few weeks later, he crafted an excellent ton against England at Chennai and ensured that India completed a convincing victory. That win, which levelled the series, set the tone for what was to follow.
Thus, a case could be made that Ashwin, who has been considered India’s greatest match-winner. Ashwin, only 81 Tests into his career, is already third on the all-time list of most player of the series awards with eight – only Muralitharan and Kallis have more and it is not that unlikely that Ashwin will finish his career at the top of that particular list. For comparison, Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli have ‘only’ been named player of the series five and three times respectively. And based on his performances in 2021, it looks he’s only getting better and better.