After India's lengthy Test season 2016-17 at home, if anyone had to pick one standout player from the lot, it would be none other than the star off-spinner - Ravichandran Ashwin who remained a selfless servant of Indian cricket during that period. He finished the home season with some serious figures - 81 wickets from 13 Tests which is a record-shattering feat. The Chennai-born off-spinner broke South African speedster Dale Steyn’s record of 78 wickets in 12 Tests in a single season.
India played a total of 13 Tests – won 10 of them, played two draws and lost just one. The Indian team also went on to reach the pinnacle in the ICC Test rankings during the period and have managed to build a healthy lead by the end of the campaign.
However, the lanky spinner missed the lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) due to sports hernia injury which kept him out of action for almost two months. Later, Ashwin was included in India’s 15-men squad for ICC Champions Trophy 2017 which is currently being played in the England and Wales.
The 30-year-old featured in the first two warm-up games against New Zealand and Bangladesh but bowled just seven overs and picked up two wickets in the coloured clothing. Despite a decent outing in the warm-up’s, he was not picked up in the playing XI against Pakistan and Sri Lanka owing to the team’s combination. Captain Virat Kohli’s ploy of going with four seamers worked against arch-rivals Pakistan in the first game as India thrashed the men in green by a whopping 124 runs.
But, the strategy backfired against Sri Lanka in the second league match as the Islanders chased down the record total of 322 at The Oval and belted Indian bowlers all over the park. The men in blue desperately missed someone like Ashwin who is a proven campaigner across formats for Team India and has contributed to the team’s cause time and again.
In the do-or-die game against South Africa, Kohli opted to go with Ashwin in place of fast bowler Umesh Yadav. And, the man clearly justified his selection to the core. After stemming the run flow in the Powerplay overs, Ashwin picked up the big wicket of Hashim Amla in his fifth over. Ashwin’s effect was clearly visible in the Indian bowling as he held one end up and never gave away any freebies to the big-hitting South African batsmen.
The way he bowled against the likes of Amla, de Kock, de Villiers and du Plessis was simply a treat to watch. Apart from the occasional boundary, the world number two Test spinner was hard to get away for the South Africans. Along with Ravindra Jadeja, Ashwin forms a potent and one of the most dangerous bowling pair in world cricket. With Ashwin from one end, Jadeja too gave away just 39 runs in his quota of 10 overs and picked up the wicket of de Kock.
The famed South African batting line-up was bundled out for a lowly total of 191. In reply, the Indians chased the target in just 38 overs and without losing a sweat. India also qualified for the semis on the back of the 8 wicket win.
Despite missing out on the action in the last few days, Ashwin’s appetite to win and to perform on the big stage makes him an important cog in Team India’s success in recent years across all three formats.