Kolkata: It was a comprehensive 317-run win for India, their biggest ever in terms of runs, as the four-Test series is now nicely set up at 1-1. This was a nothing short of a team effort by the hosts on a minefield of a wicket at the Chepauk Stadium in Chennai - albeit the same for both teams - which saw Rohit Sharma, captain Virat Kohli and his deputy Ajinkya Rahane giving a masterclass on how to bat in these conditions and debutant Axar Patel showing he can push the injured Ravindra Jadeja for a place in this format as well.
Still, the second Test in Chennai will go down in history as Ashwin’s Test, much like the way the 1981 Ashes Test in Headingley continues to ‘belong’ to Ian Botham. The comparison, however odious, is bound to come not only in terms of statistics, but the influence which the home boy weilded on the proceedings with both bat and ball. At 34 years, it’s anybody’s guess as to how many years of international cricket Ashwin still has left in him, but he certainly sent a timely reminder that he was not adjudged the ‘ICC Cricketer of the Year’ as well as ‘ICC Test Cricketer of the Year’ in 2016 for nothing.
Some felt it would have been a fitting finale if Ashwin could finally finish the match with a century and a 10-wicket haul, though it didn’t really matter in the end that he finished with eight in the end - making way for debutant left-arm spinner Axar Patel take a fifer in the second innings as Kuldeep Yadav signalling his comeback with two wickets. What’s more important is the staggering strike-rate that Ashwin has shown in his somewhat chequered career - which is superior to both Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh - two of India’s biggest match-winning spinners in recent years.
The figures reveal that Ashwin picks up wickets at over five a Test match, higher than Kumble’s 4.68 and Harbhajan Singh’s 3.95. Both Kumble (619) and Harbhajan (417) are India’s two top wicket-takers but they both lag behind the Chennai man when it comes to strike rate as well as average. Ashwin’s strike rate is now 53.6 and average of 25.27 is much better than those of Kumble (SR: 65.9; Avg: 29.65) and Harbhajan (SR: 68.5; Avg: 32.46).
As of date, Ashwin (394 wickets off 76 Tests) is fourth in the list of top wicket-takers behind Kumble (619), Kapil Dev (434)and Harbhajan Singh (417). However, if he ends up playing 100 Test matches - he might end up with over 500 wickets and become India’s second highest wicket-taker in Test cricket behind leg-spinner Kumble. If he shows the longevity to play as many as 132 Tests that Kumble played, there is every likelihood that he would end up as the highest wicket-taker for India.
His phenomenal strike-rate, which has seen Ashwin recording 29 five-wicket hauls, is only second to Kumble among Indian spinners - the latter boasting 35 five-wicket hauls.
As someone who started his career as an opening batsman at the club level in Chennai, the owner of five Test centuries has always given the impression that he takes his batting seriously - though it had taken a bit of dip in recent years. Speaking after his century on Monday, Ashwin, however, revealed that he was not ready to give up on his skillsets in this area - picking the brains of batting coach Vikram Rathour during the last Australian tour. If his average shows a modest 28.23 despite his five centuries and 11 fifties, a lot of it can be attributed to India’s strong batting line-up where he bats as low as in number eight.
Gautam Gambhir, former Indian opener known for his plain-speaking, called Ashwin as India’s greatest matchwinner after Kumble. “He always goes under the radar a little bit, because there are players like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah. What he has done in Test cricket for India is unbelievable,” said Gambhir on Star Sports.
One quality that marks Ashwin out from other spinners, as pointed by Gambhir, is that he loves bowling with the new ball. “A lot of finger spinners don’t bowl well with the new ball. They want a little bit old ball which can actually grip and stuff, but R Ashwin; the kind of variation he has got, he undercuts the ball, he can take the ball away from you and he is brilliant against the left-handers as well as the right-handers,” added Gambhir.
India (1st innings) 329 all out
England (1st innings) 134 all out
India (2nd innings) 286 all out
England (2nd innings)
R. Burns c Kohli b Ashwin 25
D. Sibley lbw Patel 3
D. Lawrence st Pant b Ashwin 26
J. Leach c Rohit Sharma b Patel 0
J. Root c Rahane b Patel 33
B. Stokes c Kohli b Ashwin 8
O. Pope c Ishant Sharma b Patel 12
B. Foakes c Patel b Yadav 2
M Ali st Pant b Yadav 43
O. Stone lbw Patel 0
S. Broad Not Out 5
Extras (6b 1lb 0nb 0pen 0w) 7
Total (54.2 overs) 164 all out
Fall of Wickets : 1-17 Sibley, 2-49 Burns, 3-50 Leach, 4-66 Lawrence, 5-90 Stokes, 6-110 Pope, 7-116 Foakes, 8-116 Root, 9-126 Stone, 10-164 Ali
Bowling: Ishant 6 3 13 0, Patel 21 5 60 5, Ashwin 18 5 53 3, Siraj 3 1 6 0, Yadav 6.2 1 25 2.