Ravichandran Ashwin is at present ranked at #10 in the ICC Test rankings for bowlers. Not long ago, he was ranked the #1 Test bowler in ICC rankings. At one time in 2015, Ashwin was the #1 bowler as well as the #1 all-rounder in Test matches.
In this context, the Indian Head coach Ravi Shastri in a recent interview has categorically opined that going ahead, Kuldeep Yadav will be India’s primary overseas spinner ahead of Ashwin and Jadeja. He has made it clear that if India has to play one spinner in future on away series, it will be Kuldeep Yadav.
While Jadeja will continue to be in the scheme of things due to his exploits in white ball cricket, for Ashwin it will be a different challenge at this point of his career. He is no longer preferred in white ball cricket. Now, this latest development has raised the pertinent question, Is Ashwin no longer the first choice spinner on away tours? If so, how long could he prolong his career only by playing in home Test matches? Let us have a look at some major concerns of playing Ashwin.
His fitness levels
R. Ashwin has never been a fitness freak all through his career which has been amply reflected in his fielding skills. When R. Ashwin made his Test debut in 2011, he was never an agile fielder. However, his association with Chennai Super Kings in IPL had helped him in improving his fielding standards in tune with International levels. Nonetheless, he remains an insecure fielder right through his career.
AT the beginning of 2018, Ashwin was India’s #1 choice even on overseas conditions. However, he struggled with his fitness all through 2018. First, he had his fitness issues in the England tour when he missed the last Test at the Oval. Then on the Australian tour, after playing the first Test at Adelaide, he missed the remainder of the series due to injury.
Ashwin was instrumental in India winning the Adelaide Test with his 6 wicket match haul and a crucial 25 he scored on the first day of the series. However, he could not stay away from injury issues thereafter.
With so many left-handers in the Australian line-up, Ashwin could have reaped rich returns had he stayed fit. His frequent break-down in the recent past has made the Indian think tank’s job of planning ahead a tricky one.
His poor overall overseas records
Ashwin’s home record
Matches – 36, Wickets – 234, 5 wkt haul – 20, Avg – 22.69, S/R – 49.21
Ashwin’s away records
Matches – 26, Wickets – 108, 5 wkt haul – 6, Avg – 31.40, S/R – 63.49
To present matters in right perspective, out of his 108 overseas wickets, 38 came in Sri Lanka in 6 matches.
In home matches, Ashwin has taken on an average 6.5 wickets per match while on away matches this average dips to 4.15. To be fair to Ashwin, even an average of 4.15 wickets per match is excellent by any standards. Besides, on away matches, Ashwin doesn't get the desired number of overs to bowl.
But, as in the case of Kohli, with Ashwin to a lot is expected of him as he steps on to the field. The same scenario was present even in Anil Kumble’s case in relation to Sachin Tendulkar. Ashwin has set high standards during the initial stages of his career and he has to live up to the expectations right through his career.
Ashwin was lucky to have played more home matches during the initial stages of his career when he was at the peak of his prowess before poor form and injury caught up with him on overseas tours. Besides, before the Australian tour, India lost the toss in most of the away Test matches and was forced to bowl first on the first-day wicket which did not help Ashwin’s cause either.
His declining batting abilities
Ashwin was the #1 All-rounder as per ICC Test rankings in 2015. Ashwin also has four Test hundreds to his credit with an overall batting average of nearly 30. Even the legendary all-rounder Kapil Dev had a batting average of 31. Ashwin has been more than a useful batsman, more so on home conditions.
He has batted at No 6 in Test matches on a number of occasions since M.S. Dhoni’s retirement. However, from a high batting average of 43.71 in 2016, his average dipped to 17 and 20 in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Ashwin has scored only one 50 in this two years period.
Turning back, India could have won the first Test against England at Birmingham had Ashwin contributed his bit with the bat. As it turned out, India lost that Test match by a narrow margin of 31 and surrendered the initial momentum in that series to England.
His declining bowling strike rate
From a healthy strike rate of 36 balls per wicket in 2015, Ashwin’s strike rate has fallen to 49, 59 and 60 in 2016,2017 & 2018 respectively. Part of that could be attributed to the more number of overseas matches that India had to play in this period.
Who is the successor for Ashwin, the off-spinner?
There is no immediate replacement for Ashwin in Test matches as there is no quality off-spinner in sight. In white ball cricket, there is Kedar Jadhav with his golden arm and even Washington Sundar is not far behind. But when it comes to Test cricket, there is no quality off-spinner around in the domestic circuit.
Ravi Shastri’s claim that Kuldeep Yadav would be an able replacement for Ashwin on overseas Test matches wouldn’t hold good against a team like Australia or Sri Lanka who pack their teams with left-handers.
Going by Ravi Shastri’s words, Ashwin would be finding it really difficult to hold onto his place and to stay fit by playing in home Test matches alone. His IPL stint wouldn’t help him in any manner in saving his Test career. With the presence of other spinners like Ravindra Jadeja, Kuldeep Yadav, and Yuzvendra Chahal, Ashwin’s absence might not be felt that much. Ashwin is at the crossroads in his distinguished career.