India vs South Africa: R Ashwin quells questions about utility in team
Sunil Gavaskar is invariably on the ball and his comment about Ashwin’s place in India’s Test team again hits the nail on the head. In his opinion, Ashwin is an under-celebrated star who should be an automatic selection in any Test starting eleven. Hard facts and cold stats support this view. Ashwin is the fastest bowler to 350 Test wickets, a remarkable feat considering 2,363 Tests have been played since 1877.
His 27 five-wicket hauls roughly translate into 27 centuries from 66 matches. Compare this to Virat’s 25 from 80. Without stretching the point further, the bottom line is this: Ashwin is to Test bowling what Steve Smith is to Test batting.
Stats don’t capture Ashwin’s craft
But sheer stats, however staggering, don’t capture the full magic of Ashwin’s extraordinary craft.
In the Indian context, Prasanna is the grand dad of off-spin bowling, a wizard who dealt in deception and deceit, the ultimate master of spin, turn, bounce and loop; treachery delivered from an action close to perfection.
Compared to past masters or contemporary stalwarts (Harbhajan Singh/Graeme Swann/Nathan Lyon), Ashwin is an upgraded option with a complex operating system.
He is an inventive, multi-dimensional threat who floats up tempting questions at batsmen. With more aces up his spinning sleeve than just four, Ashwin surprises batsmen with a variety of change up deliveries.
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Besides the stock ball, he bowls legitimate deliveries that leave the right-hander, not dodgy doosras with a bent elbow. He is also an off-spinner who can bowl leg spin.
In modern cricket, conventional spinners are largely unprotected, but such is Ashwin’s creative genius he holds his own.
In IPL, he operates in the power play, ready to bowl as openers mark their guard. In Tests, especially in India, he is the best spinner by a yard, the best new-ball bowler by some distance.
Ashwin also happens to be the best No 9 in the world (4 Test hundreds), the only bowler to merit a bat endorsement.
Yet, for all his achievements, he is not on the expressway of fame and fortune.
In BCCI’s central contract list, he is slotted with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kuldeep Yadav. Not a popular sporting hero, Ashwin is missing from celebrity events. Nor is he in demand for commercial contracts in corporate India—this when he is extremely articulate, intelligent and interesting, someone unafraid to speak his mind.
Surprisingly, he is not considered a A lister even in cricket’s ecosystem. The pecking order here is batsman-dominated; Ashwin is respected like Anil Kumble was before him, but is not a life member of the big league.
Instead of bossing this field, he is a tenant looking to occupy the space he ought to rightfully own.
Ashwin’s recent journey has been particularly painful. Rejected by CSK (to Harbhajan, what irony) in IPL, he travelled to Kings X1 but his nomadic T20 life continues as he contemplates another shift, this time to Delhi.
Rejected for Cup
Rejected for the World Cup in England, a thoroughbred reduced to a one-trick pony, he turned out for Notts in County cricket, and played TNPL, apparently as time pass.
Worse was to follow. In a snub, Ashwin was benched for the Tests against West Indies in August. But with 7/145 against South Africa, he has quelled questions about his utility. It seems the ball is again spinning his way, and he is where he belongs.
But questions remain: Does India value Ashwin? Is Indian cricket willing to give him the space awarded to Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma?
Gavaskar has said what he did—there is no reason to disagree with the master.