India vs Australia 2017, First Test: Ravichandran Ashwin Completes Winning All his Individual Battles Against the Best

On the first day of the first India vs Australia 2017 Test in Pune, Ravichandran Ashwin proved why he’s the best spinner in world cricket!

Statistics and rankings can be misleading. True, they might be seen as key performance indicators (KPI), but stats and rankings do not always provide a true reflection of how good a player is. So what is a proper reflection of how good a player is?

For a batsman to be regarded as good or top-quality, he has to score runs when his team needs him and the match situation is such that only the skillful and mentally tough can prevail. And some might argue that runs in foreign conditions are also a mandate for a batsman to be deemed good or great. For bowlers and spinners, the barometer is the quality of batsmen they dismiss and not just the number of wickets they take.

Because a bowler can have numerous five-fers, but if most of those are wickets of tailenders, then he is probably not adding value to the team and contributing to their victories.

For Ravichandran Ashwin, India’s 2016-17 home season turned out to be one in which he proved why he is the best spinner in world cricket. All visiting teams, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia, were expected to challenge India. And, they had at least one batsman who was going to test Ashwin’s credentials.

Kane Williamson, Joe Root, Shakib Al Hasan, and Steve Smith were the batsmen who were expected to examine Ashwin’s skills and also show the world how to tackle him.

Less than 12 months ago, towards the end of 2015, Ashwin had decimated South Africa in the Freedom Trophy, taking 31 wickets in four Tests and spinning India to a 3-0 Test series win. The Proteas, though, didn’t have batsmen who could have tackled the Indian off-spinner better, barring AB de Villiers and to an extent Hashim Amla, who, however, didn’t have a great series. For Ashwin too, the pitches assisted him from the first hour of the Test and the batsmen had to be quite lucky to survive.

Ashwin was expected to be challenged a lot more by Williamson, Root, Smith, and Shakib, simply because they had the skillset that allowed them to play spin quite comfortably. For a batsman to be good against the spinners, he has to be precise with his foot movement. When the ball is turning square, he should be able to play on the front and back-foot, and also be prepared to use his feet to go down the pitch and smother the spin.

The aforementioned quartet have these in their repertoire and Ashwin, even with his own extensive skillset comprising of the conventional off-spinner, carom ball, top-spinner, and slider, had a challenge on his hands.

But boy he came up trumps!

Kane Williamson was dismissed by Ashwin in all four innings (bowled, leg before, bowled, and leg before) during the three-Test series. The New Zealand skipper was forced to miss the second Test in Kolkata due to illness. Otherwise, in Kanpur and Indore, Ashwin had his number every single time. And, mind you, Williamson was dismissed off top-class deliveries while the level of assistance from the pitches was also not as prodigious as was the case during the previous season.

Williamson was New Zealand’s best batsman, not just against spin but on the whole, and likewise, Joe Root was England’s most important batsman. And, make no mistake, he plays spin extremely coolly. The newly-appointed England skipper plays the conventional sweep better than almost every other batsman in world cricket and his footwork is ideal for playing spin.

What happened?

Ashwin got the better of him too, not as many times as Williamson was, but the Tamilnadu off-spinner still dismissed Root twice in the five-Test series.

Two contemporary batsmen who were exemplary players of spin, were conquered and Ashwin was not only justifying his own credentials but also his team were benefitting from his delivering the most important wicket in the opposition’s line-up.

Bangladesh then toured India to play their first-ever Test match on Indian soil, and Shakib Al Hasan, who is arguably their best batsman, was coming into it on the back of registering Bangladesh’s highest Test individual score (217).

Ashwin outfoxed Shakib with a change in the line and length of his delivery which Shakib fell to.

And finally, on the first day of the Pune Test against Australia, Ashwin dismissed Steve Smith and drew first blood in what is another crucial individual battle involving the senior Indian off-spinner.

Fast forward another Test and Ravichandran Ashwin made the telling contribution in India levelling the four-Test series with a 75-run win in Bangalore. With Australia chasing 188 for victory and retaining the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, David Warner’s wicket was going to be such a pivotal one. The New South Wales left-hander, with his explosive hitting, could well have taken the game away from India. Warner had struck Ashwin for a six on the final delivery of the eighth over and Australia, with every boundary, were getting closer to their target of 188.

But Ashwin, the canny off-spinner he is, changed the angle and came round the wicket, from where he trapped Warner right in front of the stumps on the very first delivery of the 10th over. This wicket allowed India to control the Test, especially when they only had a relatively small target to defend.

Ashwin, though, didn’t stop taking wickets here: he went on to deliver the other crucial wickets of Peter Handscomb, Matthew Wade, Mitchell Marsh, and Mitchell Starc, to see India through to victory. He was a completely different spinner in the second innings compared to the first, and his spell of 12.4-4-41-6 was mighty important in India winning the Test match on the fourth day. With this six-fer, Ashwin also completed taking his 25th five-wicket haul in just his 47th Test!

Because he has won each one of his battles against the opposition’s best batsman, continues to deliver vital wickets for his captain and ultimately wins Test matches single-handedly for India we can definitely say that Ashwin is the best spinner in world cricket… by a long distance! The defining element of being the best is beating the best in the business and Ashwin has, time and again, proved it.

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