From Competitive Bowler to Match-Winner, Here’s Ashwin’s 2016

Statistician Arun Gopalakrishnan breaks down Ravichandran Ashwin’s 2016 in numbers.

4 min read
Ravichandran Ashwin. (Photo: Reuters)

Many years after he has finished playing, if Ravichandran Ashwin turns back the pages, he will know that 2016 was the year when he took the giant leap from being another competitive cricketer to becoming a match-winner.

Test cricket is considered to be the toughest format of the sport, and it is in this highly-competitive and demanding format that the off-spinner has stamped his authority. In the preceding twelve months, Ashwin has not only won India matches with the ball – several of them single-handedly, but also contributed useful runs with the bat.

As a result, he finishes the year not only as the top-ranked bowler in the ICC’s Test rankings, but also occupies the perch spot in the ICC’s rankings for Test all-rounders.

Those who have followed Indian cricket closely will know that Ashwin’s form in 2016 is not a sudden spurt, but a progression of his form in the previous year. When India played South Africa at home towards the end of 2015, Ashwin accounted for nearly 45 per cent of the visitors’ wickets, picking wickets at a mind-boggling strike-rate of a wicket every 31 deliveries.

(Photo: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)
(Photo: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

The off-spinner from Tamil Nadu carried that form into this year and has run through sides on many occasions. It has been a dream year for the 30-year old – even a freak year to a certain extent.

In the last twelve months, Ashwin has taken 72 wickets and scored 612 runs in 12 Test matches. One has witnessed such a performance in Test cricket only once previously in 140 years of Test cricket.

Kapil Dev, in 1979, became the only cricketer to score more than 600 runs and take more than 70 wickets in Test matches in a calendar year. Ashwin now has membership to that once exclusive club.

(Photo: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)
(Photo: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

It has generally been held against Ashwin that he is a good bowler only in conditions which aid his kind of bowling. However, even if buying into the argument that Ashwin only performs in conditions which assist spinners, why haven’t other spinners playing in the same series been able to deliver similar results?

One has to respect and appreciate the off-spinner’s accomplishments, for it the result of his hunger, his craft, application of his skill, and a certain temperament. His performances needs to be respected, for they have been several notches superior to performances of other spinners he has played with or against.

Ashwin has picked up more wickets, has picked up bigger hauls compared to other bowlers and has generally picked up wickets at regular and quicker intervals.

(Photo: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)
(Photo: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

Cricketers are often branded as specialists for certain formats; certain cricketers only play Test cricket, some others prefer playing the white ball formats only. But not Ashwin, who is equally comfortable playing all three formats.

The impressive thing about him is his ability to adapt to the various conditions, various situations and varying demands of the various formats. If one were to roll back the years, Ashwin made his mark first as a bowler in the T20 format before getting his break in Test cricket.

(Photo: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)
(Photo: The Quint/Harsh Sahani)

From very early in his career, Ashwin was always regarded as a smart cricketer and an extremely skilled bowler – one who had several tricks up his sleeve. So what has changed in Ashwin’s bowling in these last twelve months?

A couple of years ago, he lacked the patience required to be successful at this level and the combination of the high standards he set for himself and the desperation to pick up wickets consistently meant he would experiment a lot.

However, desperation has gone now out of his system and he is prepared to buy wickets. He has the patience to set up batsmen and give time for a certain plan to work.

From Competitive Bowler to Match-Winner, Here’s Ashwin’s 2016

What has also changed is that Ashwin now relies primarily on his off-spin to pick wickets. He uses the other variations in his repertoire as a weapon to unsettle or confuse the batsmen, knowing at the back of his mind that he can always fall back on his off-spin to buy him wickets.

In the first quarter of 2017, India play five Test matches at home, and that gives Ashwin the opportunity to climb into the top five of India’s top wicket-takers in Test cricket.

That will be some achievement, for he will have outdone the likes of Bishan Singh Bedi, BS Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan – while still being only 30 years old and several more years of international cricket left in front of him.

(This article has been republished from The Quint’s archives on the occasion of Ravichandran Ashwin being awarded the Dilip Sardesai Award by the BCCI for the second time. This story was originally published on 24 December, 2016 to look back on Ashwin’s incredible year.)

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