Ravichandran Ashwin | The genuine all-rounder who India kept under the wraps

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Ravichandran Ashwin | The genuine all-rounder who India kept under the wraps

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Arun S Kaimal

07/25/2016

The man-of-the-match performance by Ashwin in the first Test against West Indies has once again given rise to the discussions about whether India have found their genuine all-rounder in him. A valid question, certainly, but one which is five years too late.

An average of 33.76 with the bat, bowling average of 25.11 and the crown of the best all-rounder in the World in Tests. If this was a guess-who question before the start of the Antigua Test, very few would have said the name of one Mr. Ravichandran Ashwin. However, after a century and a seven-wicket haul against the Windies, the Tamil Nadu cricketer is now being hailed as “the all-rounder” India was searching for. But, this is not the first time Ashwin scored a century and took a five-wicket haul in the same Test. He did it in 2011 against the same opposition to prove his all-round credentials, but the Indian team skilfully kept it as a secret for the next five years.

Ravichandran Ashwin’s story always had the batting element, right from the start. After starting his career as an opener at the junior level, the Tamil Nadu-born cricketer switched over to the role of a frontline spinner following repeated failures as a batsman. The decision to turn to spin came as an afterthought, but it ultimately became the skill that made him a world-renowned face. However, his skill with the bat never went away.

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In fact, when he impressed one and all with his off-spinners and carom balls at one end in the debut Test series in 2011, his abilities with the bat also made the headlines at the other end. In his third Test, the right-hander walked out to the middle at the Wankhede stadium at the No.8 position against West Indies with India facing the prospect of a humiliating follow-on. Along with his current Indian skipper Virat Kohli, the off-spinner formed a partnership to take India out of trouble. A No.8 batsman playing a controlled innings against the pacers, who sent back the big top order batsmen, was a different experience to the Indian cricket fan. There was no swing-at-everything-shot, neither was there any lack of patience. Ashwin stuck it out in the middle and made his debut hundred that day, with tailenders by his side.

Also, read : Virat Kohli | The 5-year long journey from Jamaica to Antigua

So, when Ashwin walked out at No.6 against West Indies at Antigua in the first Test, there was no surprise for the Indian cricket fans who saw the debut hundred by the Tamil Nadu cricketer. In fact, the feeling was more about why he never batted in the top 6.

The innings that followed was almost a repeat of his debut hundred. Once again it was Virat Kohli at the other end. And after having seen the abilities of the 29-year-old first hand, Kohli had no problem to promote him to No.6. The Tamil Nadu cricketer was calm and composed in the middle, which was personified by the cover drive he played off Carlos Brathwaite for his opening runs. A day later, he made his third Test century of his career, incidentally all against the West Indies. If his performance with the bat was no enough, he added a seven-wicket haul also to his name in the second innings to help India win the Test.

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With the man-of-the-match performance, which included a hundred and a seven-wicket haul, Ashwin also became just the third cricketer in history to do the feat - a record he shares with the legendary Ian Botham and Jack Gregory. The achievement by Ashwin has once again given rise to the discussions about whether India have found their genuine all-rounder in him. A valid question, certainly, but one which is five years too late.

Ashwin’s abilities with the bat were clear from the third Test he played. If there was any doubt, then he must have cleared it with his second Test hundred at the Eden Garden two years later. The right-hander also had a 30+ average and six fifties to his name. But, until the Test at Antigua, Ashwin never batted in the top six. He batted twice at No.7 and the rest of his 46 innings at No.8 and 9.

When Ashwin was batting with the tailenders innings after innings, India tried Ravindra Jadeja and even Stuart Binny as their all-round options ahead of him. In 24 innings, Jadeja has managed just one fifty to his name, while Binny has one fifty-plus score in his ten innings. But, before the Test at Antigua, Jadeja and Binny would have been the main options for the ‘all-rounder’ role ahead of Ashwin. In fact, Ashwin has a better average than Rohit Sharma, who batted in the top 6 places in all of his 29 innings.

The 29-year-old also stands tall when compared with his peers from other teams. Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan, England’s Moeen Ali, Australia’s Mitchell Marsh, and New Zealand’s Corey Anderson all play as all-rounders for their respective teams, but apart from Shakib, none of them have a better batting average than Ashwin in Tests. When it comes to bowling, Ashwin is head and shoulders above the other all-round options and is ranked second in the ICC Test rankings.

“Yeah, I've always wanted to bat in the top-seven for the Indian team, which is a long-time goal that I have to try to strive to get better at. I need to thank Anil bhai and Virat for having the confidence in me to be pushed at number six. There have been times in the past when I've played really well, and haven't really got the promotion.

The ability of Ashwin was never in doubt, but the Indian team never selected him as the genuine all-round option. Ashwin’s comments after his century clearly shows that he wanted the team to utilise his batting skills.

“Yeah, I've always wanted to bat in the top-seven for the Indian team, which is a long-time goal that I have to try to strive to get better at. I need to thank Anil bhai and Virat for having the confidence in me to be pushed at number six. There have been times in the past when I've played really well, and haven't really got the promotion,” Ashwin said.

The team might have looked at the 29-year-old as the frontline spin option, and after the debacle with Irfan Pathan’s batting experiments, they would not have wanted another casualty. But, Ashwin has showed time and again that he is capable of doing a better job with the bat and the ball than all the all-round options the Indian team currently has. With India scheduled to play a long and gruelling season of Test cricket, it might be the best time to put the faith in the all-rounder we always had. 

Also, read : Anil Kumble | Can the legendary bowler transform into a great coach?

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