One doesn’t normally get to say that Kane Williamson was lined up, but yet he was: twice at Kanpur and twice more at Indore. He is too good a batsman to be dismissed in such a similar fashion in consecutive outings, yet he was outdone in more or less the same manner.
It was Ravichandran Ashwin who had laid out the bait to one of the world’s top batsman.
Both times at Kanpur and in the 1st innings at Indore, Williamson was indecisive as to whether to go forward or backwards to the ball pitched outside his off stump, mainly due to the length that Ashwin had employed. But then, Williamson being Williamson, he came out in the 2nd innings with a plan of his own. He either charged down the track or went fully backwards and guided the balls from outside off to midwicket. He didn’t try to work it to the cover or point region like he had done previously.
Ashwin being Ashwin, he let one slip slightly quicker and a touch straighter, which eventually flummoxed the Kiwi skipper and trapped him in front, so deep in the crease he had nowhere else to go. This was Ashwin at his wily best, taking the 22 yards strip out of the equation and toying with the seeds of doubts that he had previously planted in the batsman’s mind. Deception is an art, one that Ashwin has mastered over the years.
Currently, Ashwin is at the top of his game and is toying with any batsman who makes even slightest of mistakes and shows signs of weakness of any magnitude. His returns in recent times have been a subject of debate.
Some of the records that Ashwin possess at this moment in his career are too good to believe at first reading, such are the numbers, staggering to say the least. He is the 2nd quickest to reach 200 test wickets in just 37 matches, he is the 3rd quickest to reach 21 five wickets haul in an innings, and boasts of a strike rate of 49.4 which is the 3rd best for a spinner with more than 100 wickets; Murali’s is 55, Warne’s is 57 and Kumble’s is 65.
If numbers offer you a more pragmatic reading, looking at them nakedly can in equal measure deceive you. Not that they are false but if looked at one dimensionally, they can conceal more than they reveal.
Out of his 220 wickets in total, 179 of them have come in subcontinent. Against New Zealand and West Indies alone he has grabbed 96 wickets. They have played him rather poorly throughout; this is not to say that wickets have been gifted to him on platter. Just that he hasn’t been challenged enough by them. That said, a bowler can only bowl against whoever he is pitted against.
His strongest criticism has been his record away from home. Ashwin averages 54.71 in Australia and 33.66 in England when compared to his home average of 20.37. He hasn’t played in New Zealand and only got to bowl once in South Africa.
So how have some other off spinners fared?
In Australia, Murali averaged 75, Swann averaged 52, and Harbhajan averaged 73. If Saqlain Mushtaq averaged much better at 34, Nathan Lyon in his home country averages 32. So Australia hasn’t been kind towards off spinners and Ashwin too has found the going tough. But in the last Australian tour, Ashwin showed stark improvement and put up a tenacious performance which bodes well.
The damp English conditions have been far more suitable for off spinners. Murali averaged 19, Swann averaged 22, Saqlain averaged 25, and Lyon averaged 30, whereas Harbhajan with an average of 49 struggled, especially late in his career. To be fair to Ashwin, he has featured only in two matches in England and to compare his records with the aforementioned would be nothing but calling the shots too early.
In short, we need to wait, wait for some more years for the dots to be clearer so that we can draw lines as they ought to be drawn. No point in drawing illusionary lines with imaginary points. One may well end up in erasing them in the times to come.
With a long home season ahead, Ashwin is expected to grab a bucket full of wickets, such is the confidence he exudes and such is the mastery over his art. He is studiously performing his task and rightfully fulfilling his skipper’s needs. At the moment, he is a class apart.
Over the years Ashwin has grown as an off spinner, and at 30 years he definitely has many more years ahead of him, and a lot more to learn and achieve.
He has traversed, perhaps, nearly half the circle in real quick time, at a speed which no one expected him to, and hence perhaps some of the criticism. He still has a complete half circle to travel and once his career comes a full circle, it will not only be easier but also be more apt to judge him.
For now, let the off spinner flight and deceive; let us study his guile and enjoy what he has to offer.
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