The game of cricket has transformed by leaps and bounds. From test matches to 50 over matches, and now from 50 over matches to the bang-bang Twenty20 matches. Cricketers need to adapt. They need to perform well across different conditions and formats. The pressure to perform consistently has never been this high. Being a good batsman isn’t enough; you need to be an excellent fieldsman and a more than useful bowler as well.
The Indian National Cricket Team’s so-called ‘never-ending’ search for a genuine test all-rounder seems to have finally ended. The transformation of the tall and lanky lad from Chennai, Ravi Ashwin, has been nothing short of exceptional. The thing that makes him one of India’s most valuable cricketers is the fact that the bowler in him can think like a batsman, anticipating what the opponent is trying to do. Furthermore, the handy batsman in him can think like a bowler, avoiding treacherous deliveries.
Ashwin has been appreciated by cricket pundits all over the world for his wicket-taking abilities. He has further gained appreciation from critics for his ability to make valuable contributions down the order, but his inability to replicate this prolific run on foreign soils has been criticized.
You can’t be called a complete cricketer just because you pile on the runs and pick wickets on your home soil. Don Bradman, one of the greatest cricketers ever to have played the sport, isn’t considered by some cricket pundits to be a complete cricketer for having played in only two countries.
Ashwin’s rise as a genuine all-rounder has a variety of reasons. First of all, his ability to stay firm at one end while batting. Secondly, his technique, which is quite okay (remember he’s a guy who bats at seven or eight). Thirdly, he is someone who has almost all the orthodox shots in his kitty. While he has the ball in hand, his variations make him a lethal weapon capable of destroying even the world’s best batting line up.
Of late, he has found a lot of success in the longer format of the game. With 44 scalps from 8 test matches, 2017 has been Ashwin’s year. But, his form in the limited overs format has gone for a toss. The 31-year-old could hardly come to terms with the flat decks on offer during the 2017 edition of the ICC Champions Trophy in England. A dip in form in white ball cricket saw him being replaced by the likes of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuz Chahal. In his bid to widen his skill-set and prepare for the upcoming tour of England, the 31-year-old flew all the way to England to try his hand in English County Cricket, playing for Worcestershire.
The key to understanding and realizing Ashwin’s value lies in understanding the evolution he has gone through. He started his career as a batsman who could bowl occasional medium pace. Now he has transitioned into one of the finest off-spinners the game of cricket has ever seen. He was the first one to realize that his physique isn’t built for seam bowling. He isn’t the quickest guy on the field but has spent considerable time ensuring he has a safe pair of hands when it comes to catching.
Ashwin has altered his bowling technique on more than one occasion. From the time he starts from the mark, builds the momentum towards the crease, then loads up, pivots up and releases one of his many deliveries.
Talking of records, Ashwin is the quickest to reach 200 test wickets. He has amassed 292 wickets in 52 test matches with 26 fifers (as of October 2017). That is sheer greatness. His all-round displays are an asset. The man who seems to have perfected the art of bowling a ‘carrom ball’ does not believe in going after records. He keeps on dismissing batsmen and the records keep tumbling as well.
Ashwin has already had some stellar performances to his credit. Considering his rising stature and the kind of bowler he is, his best may just be around the corner. A long home season awaits Ashwin as he’ll be seen flexing his muscles against the mighty Proteas in January 2018. We’re surely in for a tour de force or two from this prodigiously gifted and talented all-rounder.