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Indian all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin is on the threshold of playing his 100th Test for India at Dharamsala on Thursday. Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: Starting from the streets of Chennai, the capital of south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Ravichandran Ashwin is on the threshold of a milestone, playing his 100th Test match for India against England at Dharamsala, which begins on Thursday.

The 37-year-old has defied the norms to chart his own path to success. On the way he became only the second Indian bowler and ninth in the history of Tests to cross the 500-wicket club.

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Ashwin, who started as an opener and a fast bowler, traded his pace to become an off-spinner. But the tricks he had learnt during those formative years helped him bowl with the new ball in both Tests and in Twenty20 cricket. Moving down the order, the engineering graduate makes his calculated approach to give his team the winning edge.

What makes Ashwin special?

The off-spinner is not averse to innovation while maintaining tremendous consistency. His voracious appetite to learn the nuances and intricacies of the game has made him a key weapon in Indian armoury since his debut in June 2010.

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Ashwin is known to wear his thinking cap whenever he takes the field, while bowling or batting. That trait makes him stay ahead of his rivals. Image Credit: Reuters

A thinking cricketer, he tries to be one step ahead of his rivals. To quote a few instances, Ashwin walked in when India needed two runs off the last ball against Pakistan in the Twenty20 World Cup opener at Melbourne. Ashwin stood outside the leg stump and when left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz fired the ball on to the pads, the India all-rounder moved in and the wide ensured that India will not lose the tie. The next ball, Ashwin blasted it over the top of mid-off to secure a four-wicket win.

In another instance, he retired himself out when he could not force the pace against Lucknow Super Giants in 2022 Indian Premier League (IPL) to become the first batter to be tactically retired out. Even during the fourth Test against England in Ranchi, Ashwin was at his best, read the situation, and came up with a masterplan. “I had to go back and rewire the way I had to think about the game,” Ashwin told the host broadcaster after the third day where he picked up his 35th five-wicket haul in the second innings to give India an unassailable 3-1 lead in the five-match Test series. “I am someone who comes over the top, comes down on the ball. I like the ball to drop on the pitch.

Mental switch

“Somehow when I come to the eastern part of the country, I find that there is not enough bite out off the surface. The bounce is literally almost near the shin height, if I can say that. So I had to really get a lot of side spin. I had to hammer into the pitch for the first part of the spell,” Ashwin said. “And later from the other side, I felt like there was a little bit more purchase. I had to literally rewire and it was a mental switch I had to make.”

An off-spinner is at a great disadvantage in whiteball cricket at present, but Ashwin has added a leg-spin, a carom ball, which he learnt from the days of tennis-ball cricket on the streets of Chennai. At a time when the wrist spinners are ruling the shorter formats, Ashwin has held his own in the IPL and has formed a potent partnership with Yuzvendra Chahal for Rajasthan Royals. After playing in the franchise league for the last 15 years, Ashwin still earns the respect of the batters in IPL.

“I always keep trying things,” the spinner had said in 2015. “I feel if a batsman can play a reverse sweep, I can also bowl leg-break. “With that thought, I have been trying the leg-break and I think I have mastered it now. But I will be sure when I unleash one in a match situation and take the top of the off-stump.

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Ashwin celebrates the dismissal of England's Ollie Pope during the fourth Test. Image Credit: AFP

“The next one is probably the googly and the flipper, but I haven’t tried those.”

Ashwin first shot into the limelight after being picked by the Chennai Super Kings in 2009 but he was quick to adapt to the longest format and became the fastest to reach 300 Tests wickets and second fastest after Muttiah Muralitharan to reach the 400-wicket mark, which shows that he has been consistent in his performance.

Desire to learn burning bright

However, one could argue that Ashwin has been successful only on wickets that assist spin. For a multi-format player, it becomes extremely difficult to be successful in all types of wickets and it is a debate that is consigned for another day. For now, Ash, as he is known to his teammates, deserves his due as he prepares for the milestone Test.

Even after playing for so many years at the top of the game, his desire to learn is still burning bright. He resisted from bowling his variations in the second innings of the fourth Test. “I didn’t want to give extra runs because we are chasing last. So every single run to chase is a big bonus. I’ve enjoyed bowling with the new ball and it was one of those days where Rohit just said that both of you are starting, who wants to start? I put my hand up and said I’ll start the over from this side. The new ball has got some sort of an attachment. I enjoyed bowling with a little bit more speed. Loved it once again,” he said after his five-wicket haul.

Ashwin could not enjoy his other milestone that happened earlier in the series. After crossing his 500-wicket mark, he had to rush home midway through the third Test due to a personal emergency. At Dharamsala he must be hoping that he has enough time to savour the milestone.