Veteran Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh has backed compatriot Ravichandran Ashwin to break his Test wicket tally, although he is yet unsure whether the latter will be able to surpass Anil Kumble's mighty bowling figure to emerge as India's all-time highest wicket-taker in the format.
Harbhajan's comment came two days after India's impressive 203-run against South Africa in the opening game of the three-Test series. Ashwin returned with eight wickets in what was his first Test appearance in 2019 which included a five-wicket haul as well. The tally of eight helped Ashwin become the joint-fastest to 350 Test wickets alongside Sri Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan.
Ashwin's 350 in just 66 Tests places him fourth in the all-time list for India behind Kumble's 619, Kapil Dev's 434 and Harbhajan's 417. Harbhajan is of the opinion that the rate at which Ashwin is picking wickets, he is likely to break his Test tally, but to surpass Kumble's gigantic feat the offie needs to remain fit.
"I am not sure about 600 wickets, but 417 is very close. The way he is going, he can definitely achieve that 400-wicket mark and can get to 500 wickets. 600 Test wickets is very far but if he has to achieve that, he has to keep himself very fit and prolong his career. I think if he is fit, he can achieve anything," Harbhajan told India Today.
However, out of Ashwin's 350 wickets, 242 were picked on home conditions while the remaining 108 were on away clashes. And among those 108, 46 were picked on Asian soil leaving him with 65 wickets which he managed outside the sub-continent.
Throughout his career, Ashwin has remained a victim of perception with critics saying that his talent is only restricted to home conditions. But Harbhajan feels that there are other spinners who bowl under similar conditions, but fail to grab wickets like Ashwin.
"People talk a lot about his (Ashwin) ability to bowl better in home conditions, but we also have to realise that there are other spinners as well who were bowling on the same pitches at the same time. He was better than all of them," Harbhajan explained.
"Reason - he has been more consistent, he has lot of variations and right sort of brain and has set a right example of how to bowl on turning pitches. It may sound easy but actually, it is difficult to bowl on turning pitches. One should know how and where to bowl, and that is what he has been doing better than others," Harbhajan noted.