“One game at a time.”

“I don’t look too far ahead.”

These are the cliches associated with modern-day India cricketers whenever they are asked about their targets. But R. Ashwin is different. Not just on the pitch but off it as well.

It’s his artistry with the red ball that makes him stand out on the field. Perhaps the confidence he derives from his on-field exploits leads to the eloquent engineer from Chennai admitting nonchalantly about his targets.

No wonder then that after becoming only the fourth Indian - and the second-quickest in the world in terms of Test appearance - to pick 400 wickets during the host side’s two-day win against England in the third Test, Ashwin had no qualms in stating he “won’t be surprised if I surprise myself in the future as well”.

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One of Ashwin’s strengths is his ability to assess the conditions and bowl accordingly. It was evident during the pink-ball Test at the Narendra Modi Stadium, where he and left-arm spinner Axar Patel ran through England’s hapless batting line-up twice in less than two days. Considering only an odd ball was turning viciously, he convinced Axar to bowl wicket-to-wicket most of the time and Patel's match-winning 11-wicket haul vindicated Ashwin's suggestion. 

Add to that his mastery over subtle variations and Ashwin becomes virtually unplayable in Asia. Ollie Pope, the England youngster, would never forget how he was flummoxed by Ashwin from either side of the umpire in both the innings during the third Test.

Having joined the 400-club at 34, an age when spinners are conventionally supposed to be at their peak, it was pertinent to ask the man himself whether he feels that he is bowling at his best right now.

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“This question has been asked quite a few times in my career. In 2015-16 people were asking me the same thing when I went through that lovely phase in 15-16-17. And now people are asking the same,” he told Star Sports on Thursday.

“One thing is for sure - I have always looked to improve, and every time I have thought I bowled well, I have always found another gear. So I will not be surprised if I surpass myself in the future as well.”

If Ashwin indeed switches gears, be assured that the opposition batsmen will have plenty to ponder, and the statisticians will be kept busy.