Ravichandran Ashwin gave cricket-crazy India the perfect Christmas gift when he finished off the nerve-wrecking chase against Bangladesh in style – hitting a flurry of boundaries against Mehidy Hasan Miraz. At 74/7, chasing a modest target of 145, India stared at a shock defeat before Ashwin joined Shreyas Iyer to register a memorable victory in Mirpur.
Ashwin’s second inning heroics in the Mirpur Test overshadowed a significant milestone he achieved in the first innings. Ashwin had completed 3,000 Test runs when he hit Bangladesh captain Shakib al Hasan for a four in the third session of day two.
After his Player of the Match performance, social media was flooded with posts comparing him to Kapil Dev, arguably India’s greatest all-rounder. The comparisons, however, were not without a reason.
Ashwin had become only the second Indian after Dev to complete a Test double of 3,000 runs and 400 wickets. Only four other cricketers – Sir Richard Hadlee, the late Shane Warne, Shaun Pollock, and Stuart Broad – have completed this feat so far.
Moreover, Ashwin (88 Tests) is the second quickest to the milestone after Hadlee who reached the mark in his 83rd Test. His compatriot Dev reached the milestone in his 115th Test, when he took his 400th wicket.
Dev and Hadlee were part of the ‘all-rounder quartet’ of the 1980s that included Imran Khan and Ian Botham, while Warne and Broad have found a place in the list only due to their handy lower-order batting and long careers.
Ashwin’s all-round record is expected to hit the headlines once again in February 2023, if he takes his 450th Test wicket against the touring Australian team. In doing so, he will be joining Warne and Broad in having 450 Test wickets and 3,000 runs. Yet, he will be peerless as a modern-day all-rounder.
Ashwin’s batting record pales in comparison to his awe-inspiring bowling statistics. Several critics refuse to call him a ‘genuine’ all-rounder, primarily due to lack of batting exploits in limited overs cricket.
However, the concept of ‘all-rounder’ itself is open to several interpretations. Sir Garfield Sobers and Jacques Kallis are perhaps the most prominent examples of ‘batting all-rounders’ while Hadlee and Dev were quintessential ‘bowling all-rounders’. Ultimately, all-rounders are likely to be more dominant in either batting or bowling.
Let us do a statistical deep dive to put Ashwin’s all-round Test record in perspective.
The statistical similarities between Ashwin and Hadlee are quite striking. Like Hadlee, Ashwin is considered a ‘bowling all-rounder’. While Hadlee had 431 wickets in 86 Tests, Ashwin had 442 in the same number of matches. Both players also have lot of fifers and 10-fors against their names – Hadlee’s 36 fifers and nine 10-fors as against Ashwin’s 30 fifers and seven 10-wicket hauls. Ashwin has scored 3,043 runs at an average of 27.41, while Hadlee ended his career with 3,124 runs at an average of 27.17.
In February 2023, the off-spinner can become the second fastest bowler to 450 wickets after Muttiah Muralitharan. Warne and Broad, the other two bowlers in the ‘450 wicket-3,000 run club’, are not even close. In addition, their batting averages are well below 20 to qualify for the all-rounder tag.
In fact, Ashwin is expected to be the quickest to enter the ‘450 wicket-3,000 run club’ despite a notable slump in his batting since 2017. The off-spinner completed 2,000 Test runs in 71 innings – quicker than Hadlee, Khan, and Pollock but five innings slower than Botham and an inning more than Dev. Had Ashwin maintained or improved his batting stats after reaching this milestone, he could have beaten Hadlee’s all-round record by a big margin.
To top it all, Ashwin has achieved the rare all-round feat of a Test century and five wickets in an innings thrice – twice versus West Indies, once against England. Only Botham (five) surpasses him in this regard.
But cricket, especially Test cricket, is not only about glitzy statistics and personal milestones. Numbers can lie and the law of averages can be cruel for many cricketers whose contributions go much beyond plain numbers. Three Ts – Technique, Temperament and Tenacity – are key to thrive in the best form of cricket. Ashwin has all three and has proved it on several occasions.
The spin wizard showed his all-round capability in his third Test itself, when he hit his maiden century to help India avoid a humiliating follow-on against the West Indies. With nine wickets in the match, Ashwin’s performance won him the Player of the Match award. Fast forward to India’s legendary tour of Australia in 2020-21 and the world saw a defiant Ashwin team up with Hanuma Vihari to eke out a draw from the jaws of a certain defeat.
Ashwin is a fighter with a never-say-die attitude, which has helped him evolve into a cricketer who puts a premium on his wicket while bowling and batting. For Ashwin, cricket is a game of chess played on the 22-yard field, replete with mind games. Hence, it is natural for cricket analysts to call Ashwin one of the best thinkers in modern cricket.
The ‘thinker’ in Ashwin came out during a video conversation with Cheteshwar Pujara on bcci.tv. Asked about his batting mantra in crunch situations, the off spinner replied: “…Don’t think it (taking the aerial route) is the right way to go because bowlers are building the pressure. You can’t do it and get away every single time.” He added that cricket must be played with “steely defence” under pressure – a statement that will surely make Rahul Dravid proud!
Critics, however, point towards Ashwin’s poor record in SENA countries (South Africa, England, New Zealand, and Australia) to deny him the ‘G.O.A.T’ all-rounder tag. The criticism is not wrong.
Ashwin’s home versus away record is lopsided in favour of home conditions. With 312 wickets at an average of 21, Ashwin’s home record is unparalleled. However, his bowling record in SENA countries remains poor – 70 wickets at 39.34 runs apiece. His overseas batting record seems healthy for someone who very often bats lower down the order. Yet, there is a huge scope for improvement.
Given Ashwin’s ability to critically analyse his game and come out stronger, we may get to see a renewed Ashwin taking his all-round game to the next level in South Africa next December. Till then, he will be looking to continue his domination at home and his favourite hunting ground – West Indies.
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