Ashwin's sweet '16

In a year of wickets, runs, and triumphs, Ravichandran Ashwin established himself among the leading all-rounders in world cricket.

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Ravichandran Ashwin figured in 12 Tests in 2016, picking an astonishing 72 wickets at 23.90.   -  K. R. Deepak

Ravichandran Ashwin’s stunning rise an off-spinning all-rounder was among the major cricketing stories of 2016.

When seasoned English batsman and captain Alastair Cook called Ashwin the "No 1 spinner in the world" after the conclusion of the India-England Test series in Chennai, he was echoing what many batsmen believed today.

Ashwin has to still prove himself in countries such as England and Australia but the indications are that he is evolving as a spinner. He has certainly grown in confidence.

In a year of wickets, runs, and triumphs, the 30-year-old Tamil Nadu cricketer also established himself among the leading all-rounders in world cricket.

The stability Ashwin lent to the side at No. 6 in Tests enabled India play an extra fifth bowler providing an additional dimension to the attack.

When Ashwin was adjudged the ICC Cricketer of the Year and the ICC Test player of the Year for 2015-16, it marked a huge moment in his cricketing journey. The game’s governing body had acknowledged his performances and prowess.

He took on the mantle of being the leader of the Indian attack, sent down a lot of overs and spun batting line-ups out.

In all, Ashwin figured in 12 Tests in 2016, picking an astonishing 72 wickets at 23.90. This included eight five-wicket innings and three 10-wicket match hauls.

With the ball, he focussed more on the off-spinner – this became his stock ball – and employed his variations judiciously. Unlike in the past, it was not the other way around.

He spun his off-spinners and harnessed the angles with insight. Ashwin was often engaged in mental duels with batsmen and used his inherent intelligence to win many of them.

He would alter the pace and trajectory of the ball, go over and round the wickets, move his fielders around and create an illusion in the batsman’s mind-eye.

The batsman, often, was forced to feel that he was coping with a lot more things than just facing the delivery. That’s the sort of scenario that Ashwin conjured.

Ashwin also became the second fastest bowler to reach 200 wickets in Test cricket. The Indian spinner got there in only 37 Tests, just one behind the great Clarrie Grimmett.

The game was special too – Ashwin embraced the landmark in India’s historic 500th Test, against New Zealand in Kanpur. The man has a sense of occasion all right.

It can be argued that Ashwin’s four away Tests of the year came against one of the weaker sides in world cricket – the West Indies.

But then, he left his imprint picking 17 wickets in four Tests at 23.17. While he was always effective against the right handers with his carrom ball and the one that drifted away or straightened, Ashwin was now bowling exceedingly well to the southpaws, spinning the ball away from them on a consistent basis.

Ashwin destroyed the hapless Kiwi line-up at home with a mind-boggling 27 wickets in three Tests at 17.77. The Kiwi batsmen, with limited feet movement, struggled to pick Ashwin from hand and consequently could not quite read the length.

Then, Ashwin scalped 28 batsmen in the five-Test series against England at 30.25. Once again, the off-spinner spun his web, with turn and bounce.

Ashwin has been working on imparting more revolutions on the ball and using greater body in his action. He is spinning the ball more and consequently getting the ball to dip and drift on occasions.

He also combined effectively with left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja to harry the English batsmen. In the Indian conditions where the ball ‘gripped’ for the spinners, this was a potent combination.

With the bat, Ashwin has the gift of timing. He also picks the length early which does give him that extra bit of time to play the ball. He is calm under pressure and has the temperament to bat through tense periods.

It was a fine year for Ashwin with the willow. In all, he made 612 runs in 12 Tests at 43.71 with two hundreds and four half-centuries.

He added substance to the line-up down the order, was engaged in crucial associations, had a hand in several rearguard actions by India. A genuine all-rounder, Ashwin certainly is.

Ashwin played only two ODIs in 2016 – both in Australia – but saw more action in Twenty20 cricket, including the ICC World Twenty20, where he claimed 23 wickets in 17 matches at 16.17.

Talking about Ashwin’s growth as an all-rounder, the legendary Kapil Dev said, "I will give Ashwin ten out of ten in both bowling and batting. The only thing is that he is not a natural athlete as a fielder."

Records continue to make away for Ashwin but he needs to show he can win matches away from home as well. This milestone man has a lot more distance to travel.