Ravichandran Ashwin in home Tests: A puzzle akin Rubik’s Cube for overseas batters. Ashwin has taken 326 Test wickets from 53 Home Tests.
Hosts India began the 16th edition of Border Gavaskar Trophy (BGT) in 2023 with two back-to-back wins by an innings and 132 runs and by six wickets in Nagpur and Delhi, respectively, to retain the title inside in the four-match Test series against Australia.
One of the main weapons for India in the victory of both of Tests was their veteran spinner Ravichandran Ashwin who till now in this series has picked up 14 wickets in two games at an average of just 13.92 including one five-wicket haul. The way he foxed Australia’s batters during the second Test at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in Delhi was nothing sort of a masterclass show.
Ashwin - A nightmare for overseas batters
One of the main aspects of world-class bowling in the longest format of the game is bowling good line and length, keeping the doors open for all sorts of dismissals in play: bowled, leg before the wickets and the outside edge to the wicketkeeper or the slip cordon, and to do it for long periods is what makes one successful.
Ashwin was all over the Australia batters in the second innings of the first Test in Nagpur, returning figures of 5/37 in 12 overs. But when he was on his bowling mark in the sixth over of the second Test in Delhi, the pitch showed no signs of difficulty compared to what the first day turf in Nagpur posed for batters.
Ashwin found his grip on the last ball of his opening over and drew David Warner forward before leaping from the surface to strike the outside shoulder of his bat and rolled away past the slip corridor. The bounce encouraged Ashwin and he continued to trouble both left-handers - Usman Khawaja and Warner - with sharp turn and bounce in his next few overs but unlike the first Test match, both batters applied reverse sweep and slog sweep to counter Ashwin.
After Warner was sent back, Marnus Labuschagne who spoke about being ready ‘in a game of chess’ with Ashwin drilled the first ball he faced from Ashwin through mid-wicket for a boundary. In between those incidents, the cunning Ashwin was also pulling out of his delivery stride to keep the battle intact with Labuschagne, even when the batter was on the non-strikers end.
After a paddle sweep from the No. 1 ranked Test batter, Ashwin responded with a beautiful loopy off-break, staying with the angle from round the wicket and most importantly keeping the seam pointed towards fine leg region. Labuschagne trying to defend but saw the ball dipping in front and turning enough to trap him LBW.
Few minutes later, the No. 2 ranked Test batter, Steven Smith came out in the middle and jumped down the track to defend Ashwin covering the turn. The very next ball, Ashwin turned to his other magical trick as he rotated the seam little squarer and pushed it across wider outside off as Smith, looking to play for the turn, heard the ball kissing the outside edge of his blade to die in the hands of wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat.
In the space of just three balls, Ashwin with his magic pocketed both the top two ranked batters besides putting enough doubts in their mind for the rest of the series. He finished the game with figures of 6/116 in 37 overs, which included dismissing Smith twice in the game.
Ashwin’s insane numbers - 326 Test wickets in 53 Home Tests
The class of Ravichandran Ashwin is just unmatchable in all parts of the world or against any opponent but especially, when it comes to bowling at home in Test cricket, the numbers speak as to why facing Ashwin becomes a nightmare for the batters.
Ashwin has 463 Test wickets in 90 games at an average of 23.98 and strike rate of 51.7 with 31 five-wicket hauls and seven ten-wicket hauls including best match figures of 13/140. Out of these, he has earned 326 wickets in 53 Tests at home at an average of just 20.85 and strike rate of 46.3 including 25 five-wicket hauls and six ten-wicket haul with best innings figures of 7/59 in an innings and best match figures of 13/140. He is just behind Anil Kumble (350 wickets in 63 games) in the top wicket-takers at home for India in Tests.
A look at the last few home seasons will paint how Ashwin has grown and is someone who is constantly in search of new techniques to fox the batters.
Ravichandran Ashwin has bagged 200 Test wickets at home since 2016 in 34 games at an average of 20.80 and strike rate of 46.30 including 12 five-wicket hauls and three ten-wicket hauls. In that four-match Test series against Australia in 2016/17, Ashwin picked up 21 wickets at an average of just 27.38. When England visited India for a five-match Test series in 2016-17, Ashwin was the leading wicket-taker in the series with 28 wickets at an average of 30.25, including three five wicket hauls. Five years later, when England arrived on India for a four-match Test series, Ashwin pocketed 32 wickets at an average of 14.71, including three five-wicket hauls.
When New Zealand arrived in India for a two-match Test series in 2021-22, Ashwin was the second-highest wicket taker in the series with 14 wickets at an average of just 11.35. Against the same side, five years back, Ashwin was the top wicket-taker in the three-match Test series with 27 scalps at an average of 17.77, including three five-wicket hauls. All these numbers just show how powerful and consistent Ashwin has been against the top Test nations.
In the ongoing Test series against Australia, Ravichandran Ashwin became the second India bowler to take 100+ Test wickets against Australia after Anil Kumble who took 111 Test wickets against the same opponents. Ashwin is the 15th bowler in the world to have 100 wickets against Australia in Tests.
Ashwin finds ways to rescue the team with the bat
If batters find no respite against Ashwin with ball in hand, he has shown how on many occasions he has saved India under pressure. In the recent second Test match in Dhaka, chasing a low target of just 145, India lost their seventh wicket on the score of just 74 and looked set for a defeat against Bangladesh. But coming at number nine, Ashwin managed an unbeaten 71-run stand with Shreyas Iyer, thanks to his undefeated knock of 42 runs in 62 balls to take India over the line. The way he played the spinners with minimum risk was splendid to watch.
In the ongoing series against Australia, during the second Test in Delhi when Ashwin arrived at the crease, India were limping at 139/7 in the first innings when Ashwin came to the crease. He partnered Axar Patel for a 114-run stand for the eighth wicket to save India from the crisis. The method that Ashwin used in tackling the spinners who were bowling with confidence, showed how he always finds a way to score runs even in tough situations; perhaps, that’s the reason why he has five centuries and 13 fifties in 90 Tests.
There is something special about watching Ashwin bowl and bat; he always has a plan in his mind whether he’s standing on his mark with the ball in hand or when he takes guard with bat in hand. There is hardly a day when Ashwin looks cooked or senseless about the incidents happening around him.
Ravichandran Ashwin will be in action again, when India take on Australia for the third of the four-match Test series in Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23 from March 1-5 at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore.