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R Ashwin – The Spin Thalaiva

A tall gangling offie Ravichandran Ashwin emerged into the Indian Cricket team in June 2010 playing against Sri Lanka. Astudious guy with a simple action, in the mold of Anil Kumble, emerged with the white cherry, trying to create a niche for himself and spin a web around the batsmen.

A genuinely intelligent tweaker, witha few first class matches behind him,was unleashed by his skipper MSD for their franchise Chennai Super Kings in 2009 IPL. With not a great start, little did the world know, R Ashwin would come to become the Thalaiva of Spin for the Indian cricket team in the next 7 years.

Started as a rookie, whose primary role was to contain the opposition batsmen and bowl his quota of 4 overs as economically as possible, at time of advent of this bang bang T20 format when everyone feared the dearth of the art of spin bowling. But a clever bowler that he was, Ashwin used to attack the opposition at difficult stages of the match like the power plays and sometimes even in the closing stages, turned out to be a potent wicket taker. He was a revelation in the third edition of the Indian Premier Leaguefor his team and was also the Man of the Series in 2010 Champions League Twenty20

Ashwin became popular for his variations such as thecarrom ball, his trying spells in IPL edition of 2010 earned him a place in the Indian Squad for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. With innumerable achievementsin limited overs, most notablythe 2011 World cup win, 2013 ICC Champions Trophy win, and he was also an integral contributor to CSK’s 2 IPL trophies and 2 Champions League T20 wins, Ashwin, made a niche for himself already.

Let us look into his career in terms of stats starting with Limited Overs

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Observing at Ashwin’s statistics in the limited overs format, he played 102 ODI’s with 142 wickets at an average of 31.74 and 43 T20’s with 50 wickets at an average of 22.14,for a spinner, whois in the International circuit for only 6 yearsis a highly commendable record. Breaking his figures further,

ODI’s

Total Matches 102
Total Wickets 142

 

Matches % Wickets %
1st Innings 60 59 83 58
2nd Innings 42 41 59 42

T20’s

Total Matches 43
Total Wickets 50

 

Matches % Wickets %
1st Innings 22 51 23 46
2nd Innings 21 49 27 54

 

Ashwin claimed 59 ODI wickets and 27 T20 wickets in deciding 2nd innings of 42 ODI’s and 21 T20’s respectively with a cumulative 45% of his wickets coming in crucial stages while defending for India.

Test cricket, however, is the true test for any cricketer and most cricketers, critics, fans and sport enthusiasts love to see and compare the records and performances in the longest and oldest format of the game. Over the years, Ashwin has seen a lot of highs and lows, evolved and brought plenty of variations in his repertoire, possessing the ability to destroy the best batting line-ups, crucially,handy against the lower-order batsman.

 

At home and spin favoring conditions, Ashwin has been devastating taking 126 wickets in only 19 Test matches at a miserly average of 20.93, in the process becoming the fastest Indian bowler to reach the 50, 100 and 150 wicket mark in Test cricketin his 9th, 18th and 29th matches respectively.

Critics often criticize Ashwin’s for his away record, which has not been that exceptional, claiming 50 wickets from 13 Test matches at an average of 36.66. So, let us dig down his figures further and analyze.

Total Matches 32
Total Innings 60
Total Wickets 176

 

Count Wickets %
1st Innings 16 50 28%
2nd Innings 16 40 23%
3rd Innings 19 60 34%
4th Innings 9 26 15%

 

The brief snap shot of his Test record shows, Ashwin has had 60 innings (one of which he did not get to bowl) out of possible 64 innings in his 32 Test career, with 34% of his wickets, coming in the 3rd innings of the Test matches, followed by 28% and 23% in 1st and 2nd innings, indicating that, when usually the pitch starts assisting the spinners, this off spiner is literally unplayable.

On further analyzing the stats and comparing the home and away records, innings by innings, the pattern is surprisingly different. Ashwin has been more effective in the 1st innings when he plays away from home, when traditionally the pitch does not favor the spinners. Then why this condemnation?

                Away
Total Innings 23
Total Wickets 50

 

Count Wickets %
1st Innings 5 16 32%
2nd Innings 8 12 24%
3rd Innings 6 13 26%
4th Innings 4 9 18%

 

           Home
Total Innings 37
Total Wickets 126

 

Count Wickets %
1st Innings 11 34 27%
2nd Innings 8 28 22%
3rd Innings 13 47 37%
4th Innings 5 17 13%

 

Purely considering the matches Ashwin played out of the sub-continent, 24 wickets in 15 innings,including that disappointing Johannesburg Test match in 2013 where his match Analysis read 42-5-108-0 when India set South Africa an imposing Target of 458, let alone win, closely avoided defeat when South Africa finished at 450/7, this magician, who just set a record of fastest to 100 Test wickets, could not win a famous Test match for his country in the 4th Innings of a Test match.

Ashwin’s Test career (especially away from home) was in shambles. Every critic, commentator and media only discussed his short comings. Many claimed he was becoming too impatient, trying too many variations, not consistent etc. He did not get to play another Test match for another 8 months. Even his comeback in England in 2014 was not that convincing where he got to bowl only in 2 matches that too in only 2 innings

In this critical period, the finger spinner, instead of sitting on his home laurels, the biggest critic of his own self that he is, Ashwin worked tirelessly on his weakness, under the then India bowling coach Bharat Arun and Team Director Ravi Shastri, rediscovered his aura in Australia in December 2014 where he claimed 12 wickets, not a great return by his standards by any means, but had the opportunity to bowl longer spells and more importantly, regainedhis lost confidence. He started doing most things right and what followed was a very successful ICC World Cup 2015 in Australia, and more success in subcontinent conditions the next season.

A Major Take Away with this analysis is that, it is too premature to assess Ashwin’s record overseas. With only a meager 15 innings out of the Sub continent spread out across 6 years, it is too insignificant a data package to evaluate if Ashwin’s success story is overrated or not.

Now, with Anil Kumble at helm of the Indian team, would do more good than not on Ashwin and he would definitely have the opportunity to fine tune the tricks of his trade from India’s best spinner of all time. Future is reassuring for R Ashwin and his performances will only get better when he plays again in South Africa, Australia, England and New Zealand

With India scheduled to play in West Indies in a 4 Test series followed by New Zealand touring India for 3 Test match series later this year, Ashwin would be the keyto India’s fortunes.

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