Author : Sougat Chakravartty
R. Ashwin, India’s first-choice spinner, turns 27 today. (Getty Images)
Ravichandran Ashwin, skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s go-to bowler in recent times, is currently enjoying a refreshing break from his hectic schedule. Plying his trade in a different location every other week, dashing across multiple countries in a short span of time – everything seems to have been put on the backburner as he unwinds for a short while before returning to the hustle-bustle of cricket.
Born on September 17, 1986 in Chennai, the tall, strapping young lad was able to balance his studies and his passion with great difficulty. Following in the footsteps of the legendary Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkatraghavan, he entered the cricketing arena after completing his engineering degree. In another remarkable coincidence, he is an off-spinner, just like the former greats.
He began as an opening batsman, but a freakish injury saw him switch his focus to bowling fast and flattish off-spin, relying more on bounce than turn, much like former Indian leg-spinner Anil Kumble. Following his excellent performances with both bat and ball, he was picked by the Chennai Super Kings for the IPL, providing a viable backup option to veteran Sri Lankan spinner Muttiah Muralitharan.
Quickly establishing himself as the premier spinner in the CSK line-up, Ashwin made merry in the third season of the IPL as well as in the 2010 Champions League T20, enabling his side to win both titles. It was only a matter of time before he made his entry into the Indian team, and he hasn’t looked back since then.
On his birthday, here’s a look at five of his best international performances to date:
Ashwin (L) celebrates the wicket of Joe Root with Mahendra Singh Dhoni during the ICC Champions Trophy Final between England and India at Edgbaston on June 23, 2013 in Birmingham, England. (Getty Images)
5. 2/15 and three catches vs. England (Champions Trophy final, Edgbaston, June 2013)
Now, Ashwin isn’t the quickest fielder in the Indian team. You rarely see him effect run-outs from a distance, and he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence with his slow movement. But in the final of the last edition of the Champions Trophy, he produced three vital moments that saw his side put the brakes on England’s scoring, and followed it up by bagging two important wickets as well.
He put in a full-length dive to take a two-handed stunner that sent back captain Alastair Cook off a seaming delivery from Umesh Yadav, leaving England one down with next to nothing on the scorecard.
Wasting no more time, Dhoni brought on the Chennai spinner for the sixth over, and he responded with Jonathan Trott’s wicket – he deceived the batsman with a dipping off-break that went around his legs and beat him in flight, ensuring an easy stumping. Youngster Joe Root was his next victim, falling in trying to advance the score.
But what set him apart on that day was his brilliance in the field. Two catches, both off Ishant Sharma, sent Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara packing after their rapid alliance had reduced the equation to gettable proportions. He also bowled a classy final over, ensuring a narrow five-run win and the trophy for India. In doing so, Ashwin sealed his spot as India’s go-to spinner.
Ashwincelebrates with teammates after taking the wicket of Dinesh Chandimal during the ODI between India and Sri Lanka at WACA on February 8, 2012 in Perth, Australia. (Getty Images)
4. 3/32 and 30* vs. Sri Lanka (CB Series, Perth, February 2012)
The CSK player came up with a sterling all-round show as he guided the Men in Blue to a scrappy victory over Sri Lanka in the second match of the 2012 CB Series in Perth.
In a first, Ashwin did not place his reliance on the carom ball. He focused on giving the ball a bit more air by bowling slower and managed to extract a lot more turn than was possible on the WACA pitch. It was a clever move by Dhoni; he brought the tweaker on just when Sri Lanka took the batting Powerplay.
And the 25-year old responded in grand style. He used the drift and loop to perfection, forcing the batsmen to make mistakes and lose their heads. Skipper Mahela Jayawardene was the first one to fall prey to this deception, top-edging a sweep to fine leg.
The dangerous Thisara Perera, beaten in flight, was snuffed out without a fuss, and Dinesh Chandimal perished in the same manner after having battled it out for a long period. No late flourish occurred in the slog overs as Sri Lanka managed a modest total in the end.
But India made heavy weather of the chase, and it was a cool and composed knock by the Chennai lad, in tandem with Ravindra Jadeja, that took them home. His only moment of indiscretion came when he tried to do a Dhoni by sealing the game with a six, but miscued his shot, and survived to scamper for the winning run.
Ashwin has the potential to be an all-rounder, but for now, it is best that he focuses on his bowling.
Darren Sammy (L) looks on as Ashwin (R) celebrates taking the wicket of Kieran Powell during fifth day of the third Test between India and the West Indies at The Wankhede stadium in Mumbai on November 26, 2011. (Getty Images)
3. 9/190 and 103 vs. West Indies (Third Test, Mumbai, November 2011)
By far one of Ashwin’s best Test performances to date as this stellar show with both bat and ball enabled his side to draw the third and final Test of a three-match series against the West Indies.
Playing in only his third game after a sensational debut at Delhi against the same opposition, the Chennai lad went for runs aplenty, but managed to make five crucial breakthroughs. He later stated that he felt cheated by the lack of bounce on offer at the Wankhede pitch, and had to strive hard for his wickets. The Caribbean batsmen made merry on a docile pitch, putting up a mammoth total before letting India have a turn.
The hosts came out firing, as three of the top-order got half-centuries, but Ravi Rampaul dashed their hopes of a first-innings lead with a fiery three-wicket burst, while his other colleagues took three more to cut India down to size, with 60 more needed to avoid a follow-on and only the bowlers to come.
However, Ashwin, who had opened the innings at the U-19 level, defied them with a superlative knock, as he patiently whittled down the Windies’ lead. At times, his shots resembled a typical tail-enders, but those were rapidly followed by a couple of murderous sixes against leg spinner Devendra Bishoo.
The late cuts and paddles were of a quality that would have made Sachin Tendulkar proud. He duly scored his maiden Test century, capping off an eventful month in which he won the Man of the Match award on debut and got married.
Ashwin is applauded by teammates as he walks back after the completion of New Zealand’s first innings during the third day of the first Test between India and New Zealand at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on August 25, 2012. (Getty Images)
2. 12/85 vs. New Zealand (First Test, Hyderabad, August 2012)
This was a game which stood out for its beautiful display of spin bowling, crafted by a young spin duo, as the helpless New Zealand batsmen struggled to get out of the tangle of webs cast upon them, in the first game of a two-match series against India at Hyderabad.
Ashwin shouldered the burden of leading the spin attack magnificently. He ran rings around the Kiwi batsmen in their first innings, bamboozling them with a mixture of off-breaks and traditional leg-breaks; varying his pace subtly and even utilising the carom ball on occasion. Six batsmen fell to his guiles in New Zealand’s first essay, forcing them to follow-on and dance to the spinners’ tunes yet again.
With Pragyan Ojha also casting his own magical spell against the opposition, Ashwin kept pegging away at the wickets. Only Brendon McCullum and Kane Williamson managed to keep him at bay for a considerable amount of time, as they put together a 50-plus stand in the only occasion where the Kiwis defied the Indian bowling.
The spinner was not to be denied, however, and he completed his first 10-wicket haul in Test cricket by removing Chris Martin for a duck to spark off celebrations in the Indian camp. Six more wickets landed in his kitty, and a good knock with the bat in India’s only time at the crease did his reputation no harm either.
Ashwin (C) celebrates after getting the wicket of Ed Cowan of Australia during day three of the Fourth Test between Australia and India at Adelaide Oval on January 26, 2012 in Adelaide, Australia. (Getty Images)
1. 12 /198 vs. Australia (First Test, Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Chennai, February 2013)
In a game made all the more famous by a brutal innings from Dhoni, Ashwin nearly stole the skipper’s thunder with his own sparkling performance till date, as he ran roughshod over the Aussies with his bag of tricks in the first Test of the 2013 Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
He knew the environs well, having spent a lot of his playing days at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, and also knew that Australia had four left-handers in their line-up. Forming a penetrative triumvirate with the feisty Harbhajan Singh and the resurgent Ravindra Jadeja, the local boy tormented the rival line-up with his immaculate line and even managed to extract steep bounce from the pitch.
He trapped Ed Cowan in both innings with cleverly flighted and turning deliveries, with the batsman seeing red after his second-innings dismissal. Michael Clarke hit him for a six, but the bowler hit back by rapping him on the back pad with a delivery that didn’t bounce much. Only Moises Henriques was able to counter his threat, scoring resolute half-centuries in both innings, but Ashwin made the ball talk as he completed yet another twelve-for in Test cricket.