Great first class debut
The habit of picking up wickets isn't something new for Ravichandran Ashwin. Playing his first Ranji trophy match for Tamil Nadu against Haryana at Chennai, Ashwin took 4 for 93 in 48 overs in very first inning. Batsmen struggled for runs of his bowling as his economy rate of 1.93 suggests. In second inning he took further two wickets for 55 runs in 22 overs. He converted his great debut match into a great debut season as he finished the tournament 6th on bowler's tally with 31 wickets from four matches. The numbers suggests that had he played all the games, he might have finished in top three but 31 wickets at 16.93 with 4 fivers and 2 10fers was an exceptional debut season for him.
Player of the match on test debut
Ravichandran Ashwin was rewarded a test cap on 6th November 2011 against West Indies. Off course his numbers in first class cricket backed up his selection but he backed it up with a stellar performance on debut as well. Darren Bravo was his first victim as he tried to cut a ball which was fired in from around the stumps and went straight instead of turning. Later Marlon Samuels became his second victim as he tried to poke at a slider and was caught by Dhoni. He trapped Ravi Rampaul LBW to finish with figures of 3 for 81 from 27 overs in his debut inning. West Indies put on 304 and bundled out India for 209 in the first inning. Just when everyone thought India is in trouble, Ashwin's magic struck West Indies. Opening the bowling along with Pragyan Ojha, he finished with the figures of 6 for 47 in 21.3 overs and completely dismantled the West Indians in the process. While Kieran Powel drove loosely outside off and was beautifully caught by Gambhir at short cover, Darren Bravo became victim of his straighter one again as he was trapped in front this time. Marlon Samuels became victim of his carom ball and Chanderpaul suffered the same fate as Darren Bravo. Another carom ball to Darren Sammy bought up Ashwin's first of many fivers in test cricket and Rampaul miscued a slog sweep to give him his sixth on test debut. With his heroics, India were given a target of 276 despite conceding a huge lead in first Inning and Sachin Tendulkar lead India to a win in the last hour of fourth day. Ravichandran Ashwin finished the match with 9 wickets and became 27th International cricketer (at that time) and 3rd Indian (at that time) to be named Man of the match on test debut.
The domination over South Africans and struggle against England
Although Ravichandran is quite consistent, his records so far against various teams are not consistent. He has dominated South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and West Indies but his record against Australia is moderate and poor by his standards against England. If you focus on his numbers against South Africa, you will find that he has dominated them big time. In 5 matches against Proteas, he has taken 31 wickets in 9 innings, at an average of 14.61(His least amongst all oppositions). His strike rate of 40 against South Africans is his third best amongst others. He has 5 fivers and 1 ten wicket haul against Proteas. His second favourite opposition is New Zealand against whom he has 25 wickets in 6 innings at an average of 15.88 and strike rate of 32.6 (Least amongst all). He has registered 3 fivers and 1 ten wicket haul against Kiwis and his best figures in a match 12/85 also came against them. Sri Lanka are his third favourite opposition against whom he has played three tests, has registered 21 wickets in 6 innings at an average of 18.09 and strike rate of 32.8 with 2 fivers and one 10fer. Against West Indies, he has 51 wickets in 17 innings of 9 tests at an average of 22.15 and strike rate of 43.8. He has registered 4 fivers against them but yet to bag a ten wicket haul. He has picked up 5 wickets against Bangladesh in only test he has played against them.
Despite dominating teams like New Zealand and South Africa, Ashwin has failed a bit against Australia and his record is disastrous against England. In 18 innings of 10 matches against Australia, he has picked up 50 wickets at a moderate average of 34.64. His strike rate dips down to 69.7 which is approx 18 more than his career strike rate of 51.4. The 4 fivers and a 10fer which he has registered against Aussies, all came at home in 2013. His record against England is his worst against an Individual team. 17 wickets in 10 innings of 6 matches show domination of England over him. His average of 49.29 against them is 24.17 more than his career average of 25.12 and his strike rate of 96.1 is way ahead of his career strike rate. He is yet to register a fiver against them and his best against them is 3/72.
A home track bully?
Ravichandran Ashwin has played test cricket in 7 countries. Zimbabwe and Pakistan are the only teams he have never played a test against whom. He has not toured these two countries either (Because the last test India played against Zimbabwe was in 2005 and against Pakistan in 2007). While his numbers in India are eye-popping ones, his record away from India is so far not as great. 133 of his 200 wickets came at home which means he has taken 66.5% of his total wickets in India. His average in India is 21.03 and he strikes per 46 balls at home. Out of his 18 five wicket hauls, 13 have came in India while 3 of his 4 10fers have been registered at home as well. The 67 wickets that he bagged away from home came at 33.23. His strike rate of 62.1 away from home dips down to 8 points as compared to his career strike rate. If you dig the numbers further, you will find out that just like many bowlers of current era, he also enjoys bowling in his favourable conditions but fades when conditions are against him. Out of his 200 wickets, 159 have come in subcontinent (133 in India, 21 in Sri Lanka and 5 in Bangladesh). His average in Indian subcontinent is 20.58 while strike rate is 44. 16 out of his 18 fivers have come in subcontinent and all his 4 10fers have been registered here. Away from subcontinent, his average drops further down to 42.73 and strike rate drops down to 80.15. 17 of his 41 wickets away from subcontinent have come in West Indies which means he has taken 176 out of 200 i.e. 87% of his wickets in his favourable conditions. So from above numbers we can conclude that although he is deadly in spin friendly conditions, he still have to find a way to take wickets when the conditions are not in favour. Despite these numbers, the tag of 'Home track bully' is too early to implement as he still has 7-8 years of cricket left in him and he can turn the table around. Every great bowler has struggled away initially but later they developed weapons to counter the unfavourable conditions and looking at Ashwin's smart brain, it's highly unlikely that he will end his career with such numbers away from home.
Ravichandran Ashwin is no mug with the bat. Since his debut he has played many glorious innings in test cricket when India needed one. His test batting average of 34.26 is currently more than that of Kapil Dev's. 4 centuries and 6 half centuries in 52 innings shows that he could end up as one of the best all-rounder to play the game. Unlike his bowling, he scores runs almost everywhere he gets a chance. His batting average of 30.45 is better than some of regular Indian batsmen away from home. One of the most interesting things is that he went for a duck on his debut test inning as well as debut first class inning.
Ravichandran Ashwin has recently surpassed the record of Dennis Lillee and become the fastest bowler to capture 250 wickets in Test Cricket. Lillee captured 250 wickets in 48 Tests, whereas Ashwin captured his 250th wicket against Bangladesh in his 45th Test. He is, time and again, proving himself a match-winner for India in both Test Cricket and One-Day matches. Not only he has created an impression as a great spin-bowler of the modern era, but his batting prowess is praise-worthy. He has already scored two centuries in Test Cricket, which is no mean achievement.
However, I would like to state that most of the successes of Ashwin are in home grounds in spinner-friendly conditions. His brilliance has not fully blossomed in different weather conditions prevailing in England and New Zealand. Moreover, Ashwin has not yet played against Pakistanis on their home ground. He will have to perform in these conditions to be compared with Muraleedharan, the greatest spinner since 1980s. For this purpose, Ashwin will have to add more variations in his arsenal.
The author has mentioned relevant statistical information in this article to substantiate his claim that Ravichandran Ashwin is a great bowler (or all-rounder) in modern era. This article is an interesting reading material for cricket enthusiasts. I congratulate the author for this well-written article.