India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin appeared for his 50th Test as India took the field against Sri Lanka in Galle on Wednesday. Since his debut in 2011, Ashwin has gone on to take 275 Test wickets at an average of 25.22 and has broken several bowling records along the way. The off-spinner has 25 five-wicket hauls against his name which has helped India’s ascent to the number one ranking in Tests. He is now back to the ground where his magical run took wings in 2015 – Galle. Here’s looking at five of Ashwin’s best bowling performances.
The long test season would come to have a bearing on Ashwin’s body by the end of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Before that, he was needed to help India maintain its unbeaten home run having been O’Keefe-d in the 1st Test in Pune. After electing to bat first, India conceded a first innings lead before Chesteshwar Pujara’s 92 helped set a target of 188 for the Aussies on a deteriorating pitch. Umesh Yadav exploited the crumbing pitch to dismiss the set Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith, by deliveries which kept low. Ashwin then produced his most recent 5-wicket haul which shot the Australians out for 112 – their last 6 wickets falling for 11 runs. Ashwin’s natural variations and the variable bounce and turn on offer from the pitch proved to be too much of a task for the batters. Mitchell Marsh, Matthew Wade and Mitchell Starc were dismissed in successive overs from Ashwin. Ashwin picked the last wicket off the test with a classical off-break to counterpart Nathan Lyon, who returned a catch to the bowler.
In a series which pitted Kane Williamson against Ashwin, the latter prized out the former’s wicket on all four occasions they squared off against each other. Of all the Kiwi batsmen on tour, only Williamson offered a significant threat to tackle Indian spinners’ dominance on the game. Ashwin kept things tight for the Kiwi skipper which made him itchy for runs. This brought about Williamson’s undoing in both the innings, where he premeditated shots against Ashwin’s tight line and length. The rest of the batting order also proved to be incapable of handling India’s lead spinner. India completed a comprehensive 321-run victory to whitewash the Kiwis 3-0, with Ashwin claiming 20 wickets. He ended the match with figures of 13 for 140, his career best, which throttled him up to the top spot in the bowler’s ranking.
None would have expected to see a series with only one hundred off the bat of Ajinkya Rahane, which involved batsmen of the caliber of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Chesteshwar Pujara and Faf du Plessis. There were cries off pitches being altered to suit the needs of the home side and the pitch for the 4th test was no different. India had already sealed the series at Nagpur and South Africa had its pride and ranking points to play for. De Villiers and co. looked to repeat their ‘blockathon’ heroics from Adelaide against the likes of Ashwin and Jadeja to save the test. South Africa batted for 144 overs to register only 143 in its chase of 481. De Villiers remained the last man standing between and Indian victory and a draw. He had faced 296 balls of raging turners, uneven bounces, and balls going off the arm of the spin bowlers. The next delivery he faced proved too many for de Villiers himself. A sharp turn and bounced off a good length met his gloves on the flush to offer a regulation catch, which was snarled up by Jadeja at leg slip. Ashwin was into his 50th over of the innings when he clipped the off-stump of the final resistance offered by Morne Morkel. The win sparked wild celebrations from the Indian side.
This was the Test match which saw the turn in form and rise of India’s current premier spinner, Ashwin. He encountered unfavourable pitches and conditions on his tours away to England, South Africa and Australia which saw him come up with sub-standard returns. He would go on to say that he was a victim of his good performances, which saw him get dropped in and out of the side. Before this tour, Ashwin worked hard on his bowling action and the mental side to his game, before a long home test season. He got off to the best start possible when he got Kumar Sangakkara caught knicking to a slow off-break. That image remained the theme of the series, as he got the better off the Sri Lankan legend four-times in four in an almost identical manner, which managed to break the back of the rest of the side. Unfortunately for Ashwin, his 10-wicket match haul wasn’t enough as India lost the test from a commanding position. This time around he would be hoping that he can help lead his side to a memorable win in Galle.
Australia at home, led by Michael Clarke, was probably Ashwin’s biggest test in his short career which had yet to take off. India had to set the tone in Chennai, Ashwin’s home city, after coming off a home series loss to England only a month ago. That was exactly what the offie went about doing. As Clarke scored on his best test hundreds in the sub-continent, Ashwin slowly chipped away at the top and middle around him for not too significant contributions. The 6’2” Ashwin used his height to extract turn and bounce which caused a lot of trouble for the Aussie batters. His persevering lengths earned him his first 7-wicket haul of his career. Coupled that with Dhoni’s blitzkrieging double hundred in the first innings, India took home a sizeable lead, which would sound the fate off any touring side. A second five-wicket haul followed in the second innings to round off a comprehensive win. Ashwin had truly arrived by the end of the series, a 4-0 series win, as he replaced veteran spinner Harbhajan Singh to become India’s leading spinner in all formats of the game.
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