“I am happy to be bowling again. And whoever bats against me, I am happy to bowl at them”, said Ravichandran Ashwin in the press conference at Pune. It was his answer when asked whether he was frustrated by the lower order resilience from South Africa on day three.
There is a striking difference in the Ashwin we see now and how he was in the past. He used to be talking about his stats, wittier with his replies and whatnot. Ever since he came back to the playing eleven, we can see a different side of him.
One could say that the breaks Ashwin had from cricket have shown him various shades of life. Maybe he realised that cricket is not the end of it all. He talked about his kids, interests in archaeology etc. It was surprising to hear when he said he stopped watching cricket for a while.
For spinners since 2016, Nathan Lyon leads the wicket tally with 152 wickets in 64 innings, followed by Ashwin- 134 in 53 innings and Ravindra Jadeja- 120 in 48 innings. If we look at the wickets taken per inning, Lyon has taken 2.375, Jadeja has taken 2.5. Ashwin leads the tally with 2.53 wickets per inning.
There is very little to pick between Ashwin and Jadeja. After being dropped from the limited-overs side in 2017, Jadeja’s improvement with the bat and Ashwin’s fitness played a role in Jadeja getting the nod ahead of him, especially in away Tests. While speaking to sportstar, Ashwin clearly explained about understanding the troubles he faced and how the lack of cricket he played impacted his performance whenever he had to bowl long spells.
Ashwin often said that he is a 100% method person; skills and other factors come later to him. It was clearly visible in the method he took to come out of these issues. Post 2019 IPL, he played county cricket in England, came back to play for Dindigul Dragons in Tamil Nadu Premier League. He went to West Indies with the Indian team, travelled straight to England to play county again after the tour.
Ashwin topped the batting averages for Nottinghamshire at 37.66. He was the second in the list of wicket-takers with 34 wickets in five matches. LJ Fletcher had taken 35 wickets in 12 matches to top the list. He took DD to playoffs in TNPL, before leaving to West Indies.
Ashwin seemed to be enjoying whatever cricket he played, irrespective where it was. He kept his body cricket ready whenever he got a chance. And he is reaping the rewards as well. He came back to the Indian team with a seven wicket-haul at Vizag. Ashwin has taken 12 wickets in three innings so far in this series against South Africa.
The wickets of Quinton de Kock in the second innings at Vizag and Faf du Plessis today at Pune are sheer examples for the amount of method that goes into his bowling. He set them up a couple of beautiful off-spinners followed by an arm-ball.
Faf’s wicket today is one of Ashwin’s best wickets in recent times. He imparted drift to a larger extent- an art he has mastered and put to use over the past three years, which caught du Plessis playing inside the line and for the spin. The ball took the edge and went Rahane, who did the rest.
Ashwin has had a couple of prime cycles for India in Test cricket. He will go down as one of the best spinners ever to have played for India. At 34, we can get to see him play for the next three to four years. If he does, we might see another prime cycle from him. He might tip off Kapil Dev and get closer to Anil Kumble in the wickets tally.
The fact that he is enjoying whatever cricket he is playing, will only add to the cause as well. Hopefully, he can continue to do so.