Ashwin rising

India had been waiting for a reliable all-rounder for a long time and Ravichandran Ashwin has now shown that he is not only a match-winner with the ball but can be a game-changer with the bat as well.

Ravichandran Ashwin... the canny off-spinner has developed into a genuine all-rounder.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

The cricket season in the southern hemisphere has begun in real earnest, and with England also touring the sub-continent later this month, all the 10 full members of the International Cricket Council will be playing against each other at some venue or the other over the next few months.

 

India are playing New Zealand in a three-Test series followed by one-day internationals. This gives India the chance to regain the No. 1 ranking that they briefly held during the tour of the West Indies before they were pipped by Pakistan, who scored a fine win over England in the final Test played at The Oval.

The Oval is a venue where the teams from the sub-continent have flourished when compared with other grounds in England. That is mainly because, by the time the Test is played there the weather in England warms up considerably and the pitch at The Oval offers true bounce where the batsman can play through the line without worrying too much about deviation in the warm air.

Pakistan too have begun their new season with a 3-0 win over West Indies, the World T20 Champions, in the UAE. The West Indies have been going through a transition period with some senior players not available and some left out, so the new captain, Carlos Brathwaite, has not found it easy. Any team needs a blend of youth and experience, and the West Indies are clearly missing out on that with the seniors not around.

Pakistan’s senior players, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, have proved in England that age is just a number by batting much better than the younger players in the team. Despite the fact that the English tour was the first time that Misbah was playing a Test in that land, he got a century at Lord’s and then batted well throughout the series. Younis scored a double century at The Oval that helped Pakistan post a big total. Pakistan went on to win the match. Misbah and Younis will once again be the lynchpins of Pakistan batting in the coming season, but every time they don’t score runs, their age will be brought up by the critics.

 

India recently completed their 500th Test match with a win over New Zealand. The margin of the win was quite big, but it does not really tell the story of how well the Kiwis fought for the first three and half days. Even on the final day, they put up a good fight though they had a mountain of runs to score for a win. By the time Ravichandran Ashwin’s career comes to a close, he will have won the most number of man of the match awards as well as man of the series prizes for India in Test cricket. The canny off-spinner has developed so well with the bat that he is now a genuine all-rounder. India had been waiting for a reliable all-rounder for a long time and Ashwin has now shown that he is not only a match-winner with the ball but can be a game-changer with the bat as well.

With India deciding to play five batsmen in the West Indies, Ashwin, batting at No. 6, scored two hundreds, both coming at a time when India needed to stabilise and put up a decent total. What generally happens with players who are in the team primarily as bowlers is that their way of thinking while going out to bat is like that of a bowler. They know they are more than capable batsmen, but somehow the lower number in the batting order makes them believe that their batting skills are not needed. Many a bowler has neglected his batting to focus only on his bowling, but smart ones like Ashwin know that when it comes to the crunch, their batting will also be handy for the team. Ashwin now has four Test centuries under his belt besides several other fine innings where he has steadied the ship and helped India get to a secure total.

Ravindra Jadeja is another player who can make a difference with the bat. He showed in Kanpur with his two innings that he, like Ashwin, is more than a capable batsman at the Test level. Again, the position he gets to bat for India probably makes him feel that his job is to go out and smash the ball around. Even if he doesn’t score centuries, if Jadeja can stick around and play judiciously, the left-hander can bolster the lower order, allowing the Indian team to go in with five bowlers, with him Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha being the all-rounders. That will give a nice balance to the Indian team and make it a side to reckon with in all conditions and on all pitches. As the season unfolds, we will see what happens and that is why this season promises to be such an exciting one.