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R Ashwin who surpassed Kapil Dev’s test wicket tally of 434 on Sunday is as pioneering a player as India’s most beloved fast bowler. Much before Ashwin, Kapil Dev showed the world and to his own countrymen that Indians could bowl fast and aspire to win. Ashwin made his mark in T20 in which variations, thinking on one’s feet, and tearing down the copybook are keys to success, and then evolved to become a Test cricketer.
As another qualified engineer who overturned the classical approach to spin, Ashwin is a worthy successor to India’s highest wicket taker, Anil Kumble. Thirty-five year old Ashwin has a few more years in Test cricket and he may well surpass Kumble’s 619 wicket record.
While MS Dhoni was the small town man with a very Indian approach, Ashwin, a graduate of the well regarded SSN College of Engineering, was an engineer who used his analytical skills to change off spin bowling from art to science.
Just like Kapil Dev, Ashwin is a champion bowler as well as an accomplished batsman. Kapil Dev batting stood on its feet, so does Ashwin batting. In his first Test series, Ashwin hit a century. Two years later, he hit his second century, and has logged some 3,000 test runs.
Ashwin was originally a batsman. Even today, he plays like a true batsman, not a bowler who can bat a bit. Then barely 15 years old, Ashwin was inspired to take up spin bowling seeing Harbhajan Singh help turn around the Indian team during the 2001 series against Australia.
He played for Tamil Nadu in 2006. Within four years, he was playing for India. And the route he took was the IPL.
In the T20 format, he outthought batsmen. Like a chess player, he anticipated their next moves by reading their technique, approach, and behavior on field that day.
In the T20 format, he outthought batsmen. Like a chess player, he anticipated their next moves by reading their technique, approach, and behavior on field that day. His crowning moments were in the 2011 IPL when he got a marauding Chris Gayle out and helped CSK win the cup.
Ashwin combined well with MS Dhoni. One could often hear MS affectionately calling out to him as Ash on the stump mic.
In 2016, he moved out of CSK, apparently after not staying loyal to India Cements team in TNCA league cricket. In 2018 and 2019, he captained Punjab Kings and has been playing for Delhi Dare Devils now.
Most off spinners have their stock balls and then a doosra. Ashwin had his stock balls but rarely needed to go back to them, especially in T20. He could bowl six different balls in an over. While Ajantha Mendis re-introduced the carrom ball in international cricket, Ashwin introduced his own version and called it, the soduku ball – a Tamil term that means snapping of fingers. The ball flicked from the thumb and middle finger could hurry after pitching and turn either way.
In test cricket, Ashwin showed he could evolve and adapt to a more traditional format. He could dig in, hold his ground, and conduct siege warfare. He could flight and wait for the batsman to make mistakes. He became the fastest Indian to reach 100 wickets, in his 18th test match.
Ashwin beat the Australian great Dennis Lillee in taking 250 wickets fastest, in 45 tests.
He is the fastest player along with Muralidharan in the world to take 350 wickets, in 66 test matches. The contribution of Ashwin to Indian Test wins can be gauged from the nine Man of the Series awards he has bagged.
But Ashwin’s career has not been an easy ride. Tall and lanky, he is not the athletic new age Indian cricketer. His fielding is more 90s and has faced the heat for that.
Most of his stellar performances in tests have been in India. He is the master of the Indian SG ball, not quite the Kookaburra and the Dukes. He was barely among wickets in South Africa a month ago but is now a major threat to Lankan batsmen in India.
He is the master of the Indian SG ball, not quite the Kookaburra and the Dukes. He was barely among wickets in South Africa a month ago but is now a major threat to Lankan batsmen in India.
Ashwin is a fighter, a man who tries hard and makes things happen. He played county cricket just to familiarize with the English conditions ahead of an Indian tour to the UK.
The intensity he brings comes into the open. He gives it back when he is sledged, gets into fights. He had a run in with a junior Sai Kishore and has tangled with more high profile international cricketers too. He Mankaded Jos Butler without warning.
But Ashwin does have a good rapport with experienced TN players like L Balaji, S Badrinath, M Vijay and Dinesh Karthik. He encourages budding talent in TN such as the Baba brothers, Washington Sundar, Vijay Shankar and M Ashwin.
Ashwin has been out of the loop in the Kohli era. After 2017 when India lost to Pakistan in Champions Trophy, he has been cold shouldered in shorter formats though he has performed well in IPL.
He has gamely stuck on and let his IPL performances speak for themselves. In the Rohit Sharma regime, Ashwin will likely have another go in all formats. And Ashwin would like to change his away performance record.
Unlike other Indian greats including Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, Ashwin may well decide to retire while he is still on top.
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