Over the weekend, Sanjay Manjrekar made news with his take on Ravichandran Ashwin not having done enough to be considered an all-time great.
For the uninformed, speaking on ESPNCricinfo's Runorder, Sanjay Manjrekar – who was one of the guests alongside former Australian captain Ian Chappell, former Indian opener Aakash Chopra and others – said he had problems with Ashwin being considered ‘one of the all-time greats.’
“When people start talking about Ashwin as being one of the all-time greats of the game, then I have a few problems. One basic problem I have with Ashwin is that when you look at SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) countries, Ashwin doesn’t have a single five-wicket haul there”.Sanjay Manjrekar on ESPNCricinfo’s ‘Runorder’
I respect Sanjay's take – and I imagine Ashwin would too – for every individual is entitled to an opinion, to personal likes and dislikes.
I, however, would also disagree, because for me, Ashwin has been very successful at the highest level of international cricket, for nearly a decade.
Let’s look at Ashwin’s credentials:
With 409 wickets against his name, he is currently 15th in the list of highest wicket-takers in Test cricket, and realistically he could end up being India’s second-highest wicket-taker in the format – second only to Anil Kumble.
Here’s a look at some of Ashwin's standout accomplishments and a few records he holds:
- (Joint) Most wickets taken in India's Test wins
- Fastest to 250 Test wickets & 300 Test wickets
- Joint-fastest to 350 Test wickets
- Most dismissals of left-handers in Test cricket
- Most Player of the Series awards won by an Indian cricketer in Test matches
- Most 5-wicket hauls & most 10-wicket hauls by an Indian off-spinner in Tests
- Only Indian cricketer to score a 100 & take a 5-wicket haul in a Test on multiple occasions
- One of two cricketers in Test history to score 5 hundreds & take more than 400 wickets in Test cricket
Sanjay's reasoning though for not considering Ashwin an all-time great were:
- The off-spinner doesn't have a 5-wicket haul in SENA countries.
- Ashwin hasn't run through sides and the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Axar Patel have been able to perform just as well, if not better.
There isn’t too much merit in his reasoning.
Ian Chappell addressed the second point almost instantly during that discussion; he used the example of Joel Garner – the fast bowler who was part of West Indies' terrorising pace attack during their glory days.
The wickets were shared amongst the pack – much like Ashwin has shared the spoils with his teammates, Chappell justified.
As for the fact that Ashwin does not have a 5-for in SENA countries, a 5-wicket haul is not a definitive parameter to assess if a player qualifies to be a great or not.
Categories such as SENA are made for convenience’s sake. It is similar to saying a batsman who hasn't scored a century in a certain part of the world shouldn't be considered a great. Let me present a few examples:
- In seven Tests in New Zealand, Sir Garfield Sobers didn’t score a century and never took more than 3 wickets in an innings.
- Sir Vivian Richards didn't score more than 38 in three Test matches in New Zealand.
- Kumar Sangakkara did not score a Test hundred in four Test matches in the Caribbean.
- Muttiah Muralitharan – the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket – only took 12 wickets in five Tests in Australia.
Anyone out there who will question the credentials, or the GREATNESS, of the gentlemen named above? I guess not!
In the period between November 2011 – when Ashwin made his Test debut – and now, no one has taken more wickets in Test matches than the Indian off-spinner.
However, in discussions about whether Ashwin belongs in the cream of Test cricketers, his largely unimpressive record in SENA countries is always held against him. The numbers don’t lie – but in this case, it is not fair to pass judgement on a cricketer solely based on his overall numbers.
There’s been a marked improvement in Ashwin’s performance overseas; with experience, he has certainly gotten better and there is no denying he has become India's lead spinner – home or away.
And that is the hallmark of great players – longevity, and getting better with time. He may not have a 5-wicket haul in SENA countries, but he has picked up crucial 3-wicket hauls in wins in Adelaide (2018) and in Melbourne (2020).
Ashwin's performances in SENA countries are often discussed in isolation. Given the fact that the conditions – the pitches, the climate and the ball itself – don’t support bowlers of his ilk, it is important to lend some context to his performances; in those conditions, one should check out how Ashwin fared in comparison to his peers in the opposition.
Barring the one Test at Southampton in 2018 when Moeen Ali picked up 9 wickets against Ashwin's returns of 3 wickets, the Indian off-spinner has acceptable returns in conditions not suited to his type of bowling.
So, go easy on Manjrekar's opinion. And go easy on Ashwin too; enjoy his craft and his ability to set up and outsmart batsmen time and time again. There aren’t too many naturally-smart bowlers like Ashwin in the circuit these days.