Ravichandran Ashwin’s rise to the top as India’s leading off spinner and all-rounder has been hailed in cricket circles throughout India. His ability to destroy rival batting line ups with his innovative bowling tactics has captured the imagination of the fans and inspired his fellow players. Among Indian bowlers, he has been the fastest to reach landmarks such as 200, 300 and 400 Test wickets.
With a tally of 427 wickets in only 81 Tests, Ashwin now stands in third place in the number of overall wickets taken in Test cricket. He is on the verge of overtaking Kapil Dev’s tally of 434 Test wickets. It seems quite certain that Ashwin will soon become India’s number two wicket taker in Tests. However, whether he will be able to overtake Anil Kumble (619) remains to be seen.
Ashwin is one of the most intelligent bowlers in international cricket. In addition to his Test wicket tally, he also has 150 wickets in the ODI format and 61 in T20 internationals. So he has succeeded in all formats. To top it all, with the bat, he has reached the century mark five times in Tests.
So what makes him so successful? To obtain an answer to that question, siasat.com spoke to three of Hyderabad’s topmost off spinners–Arshad Ayub, Shivlal Yadav and Kawaljeet Singh. All three of them have captained Hyderabad’s Ranji trophy side with sagacity and distinction. While Arshad played for India in 13 Tests and 32 ODIs, Shivlal represented India in 35 Tests and 7 ODIs. Kawaljeet played for the India (A) team in the 1990s although he deserved to have represented India in Test cricket and ODIs too. For three seasons Kawal was India’s highest wicket taker in the Ranji trophy.
Arshad feels that Ashwin is the most intelligent spinner in the world cricket now. “Since the time he emerged in the spotlight, way back in 2010, he has been really innovative and creative with his bowling. He has evolved steadily. He is highly intelligent and works on the batter’s weaknesses. He has developed some very clever variations such as the straighter ball and the carrom ball which can fox many batsmen,” said Arshad.
“As a spinner myself I know how hard it is to control those variations. One has to work really hard at the nets every day to get it just right. And then to land the ball just at the right spot is another difficult task. Even if you are slightly off the mark, you will be severely punished because you are bowling to the world’s best batters all the time,” explained Arshad.
When asked if Ashwin can be compared to the great off spinners of the past such as Erapalli Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan, Arshad said that it is unfair to compare those who played in the past and those who are playing now.
“I will only say this much – that Ashwin has developed his own game to a very high level. He deserves full credit for reaching the topmost level of international cricket. So many things may affect a bowler’s performance on any given day. Pitches are different, weather conditions are different, match situations are different. But Ashwin has consistently succeeded under all situations. And not just in India but abroad too. So hats off to his talent and ability. I am sure he will reach even greater heights in world cricket,” said Arshad.
What Shivlal Yadav said about Ashwin was quite similar to Arshad’s viewpoint. “He is an extremely intelligent bowler who can outwit the batters. His wicket taking ability is phenomenal and consistent. The fact that he was the fastest Indian bowler and the second fastest in cricket history to reach 200 wickets in Test cricket (in 37 Tests) after the legendary Australian Clarrie Grimmett (36 Tests) shows the class that Ashwin belongs to,” said Shivlal.
“In some ways Ashwin’s style of bowling reminds me of Venkataraghavan. But I would not compare Ashwin with bowlers of a different era. We must remember that when Prasanna and Venkataraghavan were playing, rules were different and wickets were different. So how can we compare? Back then and even when I was playing, it was so difficult to get a positive leg-before decision from any umpire. Now things have changed and the approach of the bowlers has changed,” said Shivlal.
According to Kawaljeet Singh what makes Ashwin stand out is his clever use of different angles of attack and the use of the width of the crease. It makes scoring runs very difficult for all batters and they come under pressure. Ashwin tries to anticipate how a batter will react in different situations and his guess is often right.
Asked if India’s balanced attack nowadays (with fast bowlers doing well) is a factor that is aiding the spinners, Kawal agreed that it was an aspect that could not be overlooked.
“The fast bowlers put the top order under pressure. Often they achieve a breakthrough. So the spinners usually come on after some blows have been struck by our new ball attack. This certainly does have a good effect on morale. This was not the case 50 years ago when India was devoid of fast bowlers and the spinners like Bedi, Prasanna and Chandra had to begin bowling very early,” said Kawaljeet who has himself played more than 100 matches for Hyderabad.
“In all formats of cricket, Ashwin has shone with the ball. I am sure that he is headed for greater glory in the days to come. He took his 300th wicket in 54 Tests while Dennis Lillee had done it in 56 Tests about 40 years ago. So that clearly shows what Ashwin is capable of doing. If he continues at this rate, he will be a legend in world cricket,” said Kawaljeet Singh.
Abhijit Sen Gupta is a seasoned journalist who writes on Sports and various other subjects