18 wickets in the first three Tests, an average of 15.7, and a five-wicket haul in 95 overs. Eight wickets in Nagpur? Australia really couldn't play spin, that’s why he got ‘em. New Delhi then? Australia crumbled under their own pressure, and Ravichandran Ashwin picked up six wickets in the Test, so that doesn’t count!
Who wouldn’t take wickets in the DRS-era? It is quite easy to pick wickets at home. Oh, the conditions are just too spin-friendly, Ashwin isn’t that good. Australian batters are just ummm, terrible. Look at Alex Carey, a walking wicket, Ashwin wasn’t too good, it was just his luck.
Look at Indore, he just picked up four wickets, you really think he is the Greatest of All Time? That guy who picked up 18 wickets? Really?
Denial keeps us blind. But denial at this level makes us quite unfunctional.
Since his debut, Ashwin has had the fans quite divided. While some believe that he is an all-time great, others want to live in denial. If the 91 Tests were not enough to convince you, this 92nd will, and if it doesn’t convince you, none will.
Ashwin is no different from Bruce Banner. The endless hours in the lab make them one soul in two different bodies. His constant need to learn, unlearn, wire and rewire makes him one of the most street-smart cricketers in India.
The 36-year-old is almost nearing his 100th Test but every time he steps out to the middle, there is someone or the other who is doubting his place in the setup. Some had him finished even before the Border-Gavaskar Trophy began, some when he had a quiet series against Bangladesh. They had written him off. In Bold letters. It wasn’t new for him.
That’s where Ashwin stands out. One, he is a scientist, two, he is street-smart, and three, he is possibly one of the greatest Test cricketers that India have ever produced. And India is a country that is home to the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Ashwin has stood out the test of time.
Sure, there are not a lot of competitors for his place, there might be a select few off-spinners in the country but Ashwin has rarely been contemptuous with his own game. There is constantly a need for him to rewire his brain, there is a need for him to go back to the drawing room to unlearn and feed a few things. There is a need for him to hit the nets to work out the angles.
All of that turned fruitful here in Ahmedabad.
On day one, he just showed a glimpse of that. Travis Head, who attacked Ashwin in Indore, was yet again threatening to run away with the battle. But then Ashwin played around with Travis’ head. He played around with the crease, the angles, and more importantly with the speeds.
He bowled one slightly quicker, then took it away with the width. Then ultimately took away both the length and the pace, leading to Head’s dismissal.
Head might have scored a boundary off the same shot, had it not been for the quick-witted Ashwin. At the end of the day’s play, Usman Khawaja walked off on the back of thunderous applause. And he thoroughly deserved it. While not being privy to any of the dressing room stories, Ashwin at one corner would have definitely chewed the head of the video analyst.
Ashwin’s first wicket of the second day was quite lucky, Cameron Green shouldn’t have been in the same postcode as that delivery but he did, and what tempted the right-hander was the subtle change of grip and the massive change of pace. The 36-year-old slowed it down and put it well down the reach of the right-hander but all Green could get was his glove on the ball.
At that point in the encounter, Australia were cruising at 378/4, with their sight well on breaching the rare 500-run mark. But then Ashwin landed another blow. Alex Carey is a serial-offender in committing to his shots. On this occasion, he wanted to play fetch to a flighted delivery from Ashwin, and at this point not only did Ashwin know where Carey was targeting but he possibly knew more about the left-hander than the Australian management.
Once he had two dismissals, there was a left-handed Mitchell Starc at the crease, a match-up that is right up the off-spinner’s alley. He understood the need of the hour, and played with the length. After bowling short and quick, Ashwin immediately slowed it down and pitched it up further to catch Starc in a spot of bother. And that was gobbled by Shreyas Iyer at short leg. Ashwin’s thinking, or on this occasion outwitting the batter is what sets him apart.
409/7, and Ashwin was walking towards the dressing room, but he had a look on his face, something that was on the page of what can I do better. The next session was a demonstration of exactly that, and what Ashwin did in that session shows why he is rated so highly in world cricket.
It is the craft of bowling finger-spin in these conditions. His load-up was different, he had a higher release point, and was constantly playing around with the batters’ head. Six wickets in the innings, five on the day, Ashwin was merely improving himself.
Oh also, it so happened that it was his 26th five-wicket haul, the second joint-most in home Tests only behind Muttiah Muralitharan (45). His 32nd five-wicket haul. 113 Test wickets against Australia, going past Anil Kumble’s 111, joint-best with Lyon.
Chances are that Ashwin might have been super angry at his own performance. But the ‘Vingyani’ (Scientist) in the 36-year-old will never stop experimenting, just like Pujara, the ‘Mirugam’ (Animal), the Vingyani will never lose an experiment.
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