In an era dominated by batsmen, there is no respite for bowlers. Players like Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson are often called 'The Run Machines' for their consistent ability to score big runs. What cricket has been missing from the old days is the bowlers' ability to torment the minds of batsmen. The likes of Sir Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis used to give batsmen sleepless nights. But they have been gone a long time.
Enter Ravichandran Ashwin. Staring down the barrel with just 87 runs to defend, skipper Virat Kohli tossed the ball to the Tamil Nadu off spinner. What followed was a masterclass of spin bowling. The off-spinner was the wrecker-in-chef as Australia lost their last six wickets for just 11 runs as India scripted a historic victory at Bengaluru.
Having started his career as an opening batsman, R. Ashwin came into the limelight after an impressive show with the ball in the Indian Premier League. A tall off-spinner is always a boon as he can extract greater bounce from the surface and MS Dhoni used him in the right way. The Man of the Series of the 2010 Champions League was up for any task his skipper gave - opening the bowling; bowling at the death; restricting the flow of runs in the middle overs. While he was a part of the victorious 2011 World Cup campaign, he was given only limited chances. But that didn't deteriorate his conﬁdence.
With Harbhajan's form fading, Ashwin was the answer to India's spin conundrum. In his maiden Test match, he ended up taking nine West Indian wickets – the second best performance by an Indian bowler on Test debut, behind Narendra Hirwani who took a mind-boggling 16 wickets. His career grew in leaps and bounds as he continued to be among the wickets on a consistent basis.
Recalling one of the funny moments during the 2011 IPL auction which indirectly affected his career, Vijay Mallya stopped bidding for the spinner and laughed at the Chennai Super Kings' owners for buying him at nine times his base price. Ashwin then went on to dismiss Chris Gayle for a duck in the ﬁnal, which turned the match in Chennai's favour and helped defend their title. Since then, Ashwin has always bowled exceedingly well and Gayle, who fancies his ability to clear the ropes against most bowlers, has always been wary of the ofﬁe.
Ashwin has enjoyed bowling to left-handers in general, and in Tests in particular. His average against lefties is under 20 and he strikes once every 45 balls. David Warner alone has succumbed to him on nine occasions in his career; Alastair Cook & Ed Cowan seven times; and Darren Bravo six times. It’s no coincidence that most of his bunnies are southpaws.
What makes him lethal is his arsenal of variations. His carrom-ball is impeccable and he has a good arm ball as well. His ability to read the sub-continent pitches has been top notch (it may help that he is an engineer). He tweaked his bowling action, changing it to more of a round-arm action, making it tougher for batsmen to read him. The 'leg-break' he used to send Hashim Amla packing in the 2014 T20 World Cup is a dismissal which every Indian fan will no doubt remember for a long time.
He also has an incredible ability to absorb pressure. With just 15 runs to defend in the ﬁnal over against England in the 2013 Champions Trophy Final, Ashwin held his nerve to give India its second Champions Trophy.
Overseas pitches haven't been his forte. His performance against Australia in his early days was questioned and he went wicketless against South Africa in Johannesburg when the hosts came within 8 runs of a historic, record breaking win. He was made to warm the benches for six Tests after that, and followed it up on his return with a string of mediocre performances in Australia and England.
But true warriors don't give up. After a bad start to 2015, Ashwin made a strong comeback in the tour of Sri Lanka and really boomed when South Africa visited India. He gave sleepless nights to the South African batsmen, picking up 31 wickets in just 7 innings including four ﬁve-wicket hauls.
His performance in the Caribbean improved as he proved himself a vital component of India's 2-0 victory over West Indies. He starred in the 3-0 whitewash against New Zealand, picking up 27 wickets including career-best ﬁgures of 7 for 59 at Indore. He added another 28 wickets to his tally when England toured India, only to return home after suffering a 4-0 defeat in the ﬁve-Test series. En route to his six-wicket haul in the 2nd Test against Australia, Ashwin reached the landmark of becoming the fastest bowler to pick up 25 ﬁve-wicket hauls.
The above stats show his impeccable ability to pick wickets and the audacity he possesses.
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