Ashwin set for place in record books
In the next few?days, the cricketing world will bid farewell to India’s most revered cricketer of all-time, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar.
His final Test starts tonight (local time) in his hometown of Mumbai, and no doubt a huge percentage of the country’s 1.2 billion will pay homage to a man they view as a real-life Superman full of cricketing super powers.
Tendulkar, the youngest man to 1 000, 2 000, 3 000, 4 000, 5 000 and 6 000 runs will go where no man has gone before when he embarks on his 200th Test.
Shiv Chanderpaul will go where no other West Indian has gone before when he puts on the maroon cap for the 150th time.
However, what has escaped many cricketing fans is that Ravichandran Ashwin is also poised for something special. After just 17 Tests, the Indian off-spinner has captured a whopping 97 wickets.
If, or should I say when, he collects those three West Indian scalps this week, he will be the fifth fastest man in history to reach 100 wickets. Only England’s George Lohmann (16 Tests), Australians Charlie Turner (17 Tests) and Clarrie Grimmett (17 Tests), and England’s Sydney Barnes (17 Tests) are ahead of him.
Lohmann, who played Test cricket between 1886 and 1896, reportedly bowled at little more than medium pace but was able to make the ball seam both ways.
He took one wicket in his first two Tests in 1886, but by his tenth match had 50 wickets and required another six matches to reach 100 wickets.
Should Ashwin accomplish the feat in 18 Tests, he would have reached the mark faster than some of the greatest players the game has known. Alf Valentine and Andy Roberts hold the West Indies record, doing so in 19 Tests. England’s finest ever all-rounder Ian Botham did it in 19 Tests while Saeed Ajmal, reckoned by many to be the best spinner in the game today, also reached the mark in 19 Tests, the fastest Pakistani to do so.
Waqar Younis, Wes Hall and Dale Steyn also reached 100 wickets in 20 Tests, along with Australian leg-spinner of the 1930s, Bill “Tiger” O’Reilly.
Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson and Allan Donald required 22 Tests, while Freddie Trueman, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Michael Holding, Curtly Ambrose and Geoff Lawson took 25. Malcolm Marshall, Imran Khan, John Snow, Ray Lindwall and Shawn Pollock did it in 26.
The Indian record is currently held by Erapalli Prasanna, who needed just 20 Tests. Ashwin will no doubt have the record but it is fair to say that he is not nearly in the same class as Prasanna, who was a master of flight and an attacking off-spinner who created several problems for the Aussies, namely Ian Chappell and Ian Redpath, both of whom he dismissed six times.
His arm ball was a floater that drifted, and occasionally wobbled, in the air.
In 49 Tests, Prasanna captured 189 wickets, 95 at home, 94 away. He took ten five-wicket hauls, five home, five overseas.
That is a balance that Ashwin will have to aim for, the ability to perform both in India and on overseas tracks. He has captured 88 of his 97 wickets in India, with the other nine being claimed in Australia. It has to be noted that 14 of his 17 Tests have been played in India but in those three away Tests in Australia, those nine scalps came at 62 runs apiece, with Ashwin going wicketless at Sydney, where he finished with 0/157, with Michael Clarke (329 not out), Mike Hussey (150 not out) and Ricky Ponting (134) tearing him apart.
It’s too early to rate Ashwin, but he clearly relishes home conditions. Next month, he journeys to South Africa for two matches, much too short a series, but fans will get some gauge as to how good he is away from home against the No.1 ranked team in the world.
That series will be a pointer not only for Ashwin, but for his other highly touted teammates such as batsmen Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan.
There has been much song and dance about these players, who have caught the eye on batting-friendly pitches in India. Something tells me that runs are going to be scarce for all of them next month in Johannesburg and Durban against Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel, the best fast bowling attack in the game.
Philander should join the 100-wicket club in the Johannesburg Test. He has 95 wickets in just 18 Tests at 17 runs apiece.