A huge moment to savour for Ashwin

Once the 30-year-old finds his zing overseas, he will then silence a miniscule group of sceptics. For now, he is spinner supreme and a genuine all-rounder in the making, as was evident in his hundreds in the West Indies recently, and India can only gain from his achievements.

Ravichandran Ashwin with coach Anil Kumble. “You would want a bowler like him (Ashwin) to get a stack of wickets in this home season,” says Kumble. And this novel target practice seems to have put Ashwin on the right path.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

India’s packed home season couldn’t have got off to a better start at Kanpur’s Green Park Stadium. As the drum beats over the nation’s 500th Test continued, it was also a time to hear victory-chants once India defeated New Zealand emphatically in the first game of the three-match series.

The triumph had many architects but the most decisive was R. Ashwin. A valuable 40 in the first innings and yields of four for 93 and six for 132 that further embellished his off-spin armour, were symbolically the best hope-enhancers for Indian cricket. With 12 more Tests awaiting Virat Kohli’s men at home, it suits well that Ashwin, the premier spinner and handy bat lower down the order, is relishing a rich vein of form.

Just as India clinically undermined New Zealand, Ashwin, too, had a huge moment to savour as he scalped Kane Williamson and reached the 200-wicket milestone in only 37 Tests, just one below the table-topper, Australia’s Clarrie Grimmett. More importantly, Ashwin is the fastest Indian to the mark, going past the likes of Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Though, where he stands in contrast to them would be determined by his overall figures when he hangs up his boots, surely the current statistic is a number that he will cherish.

 

Ashwin’s burgeoning wicket-basket is a tribute to the manner in which he has evolved as a spinner. His early foray into prominence was largely shaped by his tight spells and ability to nail marauders like Chris Gayle in the Indian Premier League. It was all about a spinner, who could weave a web even in the tumult of Twenty20 cricket but that image was also a direct offshoot of live television. In subsequent press conferences, Ashwin had often referred to his wicket-taking skills in first-class cricket. The sub-text was about taking into account his entire bouquet of skills instead of stereotyping him as a man fit for the shortest skirmish.

Those were times, when sections of the media, too, pitted him against the then numero uno off-spinner Harbahajan and Ashwin was clever enough not to bite the bait. He paid his respects to the senior and stressed that he himself was constantly improving as a bowler. Just as Harbhajan’s form and fitness waned and India was scrambling to get a successor, Ashwin stepped in and since his Test debut against the West Indies in Delhi in 2011, he has largely held his space.

In those early days, despite the wickets and the runs, there was a tendency to evaluate him as a tweaker, who was more comfortable in limited overs cricket. Ashwin gradually came out of those image traps. He also went through two phases during which his confidence had ebbed away. When England toured India in 2012, Ashwin was expected to torment the visiting team but, incidentally, it was the visiting spinners Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, who had the last laugh.

The Chennai-based spinner’s reputation was further dented when the team management put him out to pasture after India’s failure to defeat South Africa in the first Test in Johannesburg in December 2013. Ashwin went wicket-less and then had to sit out a string of overseas Tests while the think-tank propped up Ravindra Jadeja. The insinuations about Ashwin again fell into a familiar terrain of ‘oh, he experiments too much and pays the price.’

It is to Ashwin’s credit that he broadened his skills, added patience to his temperament, began to use deliveries like the carom-ball as a surprise weapon and followed the path of the great spinners of yore: imposing constant pressure upon the batsman until he capitulates. Now, with Kumble as coach, Ashwin is enjoying his conversations with a legend, who is also an engineer. “He asks a lot of questions which is good and as long as he gets his answers, he is satisfied. You would want a bowler like him to get a stack of wickets in this home season,” Kumble said.

Accuracy, angles and an ability to shut out the critical noise from various lobbies, has helped Ashwin find his niche. Once the 30-year-old finds his zing overseas, he will then silence a miniscule group of sceptics. For now, he is spinner supreme and a genuine all-rounder in the making, as was evident in his hundreds in the West Indies recently, and India can only gain from his achievements.