This is partly Ashwin’s fault, as between centuries he gave the impression he was not focussed on batting
The definition of the term ‘all-rounder’ in cricket is quite simple. Would the player find a place in the team on the basis of either of his skills (batting, bowling, wicket-keeping) alone? If he does, then he is.
Top of the ICC’s ranking is Ben Stokes, and he can play for England either as a batsman or as a bowler. His incredible catching is a bonus.
Sixth on the list is R. Ashwin, and we have been reluctant to call him an all-rounder despite his five centuries and 11 fifties. We called another great spinner S. Venkatraghavan an all-rounder on the basis of just two fifties.
This is partly Ashwin’s fault, as between centuries he gave the impression he was not focussed on batting. Now he has told us he has rediscovered the joy of batting — hinting that he is going to take this aspect of his game more seriously. Once you enjoy something, communicating that enjoyment is part of a performer’s instinct.
Had Ashwin not been the bowler he is, it is likely that he might have played as a batsman alone. There is something of V.V.S. Laxman about his touch and natural sense of timing. He is a player of rare intelligence.
In Australia recently he showed he has a big heart to go with his sharp mind, taking blows on his body and carrying the team on his shoulders — and fingers and hands and chest — in an unexpected draw that set up the series win in the final Test.
When he speaks, he gives the impression of being an intelligent sportsman — and he doesn’t care who knows it. He has given his bowling deep thought, and worked out the angles and release points that suit him best.
Like all top bowlers he remembers every wicket, and it doesn’t take him long to retrieve past dismissals from the storage place in his mind.
Such profound involvement in his craft can be intimidating; but the seriousness is lightened by a sense of fun that comes naturally to a certain kind of person born and bred in Chennai.
Ashwin was born a day before the tied Test began in Chennai; he has been tied to history and cricket ever since, getting to the various landmarks quickly as he made up for a late start (he was 25 on debut).
He is six wickets short of the 400-mark. Muttiah Muralitharan made it in 72 Tests. Richard Hadlee and Dale Steyn got there in 80; Chennai was Ashwin’s 76th.
Ashwin might once have nurtured dreams of leading India. He is better qualified than many who have. But the bias against bowler-captains stood in the way. And once Virat Kohli, a younger man took charge, that road was shut.
If he was disappointed in not getting the chance to pick up ten wickets as India won the Test, he didn’t show it. In Australia, Tim Paine had sledged Ashwin saying (in effect): nobody likes you in your team. You only had to see the manner in which the non-striker Mohammed Siraj celebrated his century to see how laughable that was.
The man-of-the-match is an all-rounder. Let us say that without embarrassment. Ashwin has done it before — a century and eight wickets — but it is doubtful if he has batted better.
Regardless of what former England captains and Australian leg-spinners think sitting thousands of kilometres away, the second Test in Chennai wasn’t played on the beach.
When teams lose in India it is because the pitch is doctored, when India lose in England it is because batsmen lack the technique. This trope has outlived its utility either as an explanation or as a joke.
India averaged over 300 per innings while England didn’t manage even half that. When a number eight batsman scores a century in the second innings on a seemingly poor track, the opposition shouldn’t waste time looking at the pitch. There are more relevant issues to look at.
To be fair, the England team and management didn’t think the track was unplayable, their skipper Joe Root saying, “We were outplayed in all three departments. It’s a bit of an education…”
India’s conveyor belt of players is enviable. A replacement (for Ravindra Jadeja), Axar Patel begins his career with a five-wicket haul.
The replacement of a replacement (Shahbaz Nadeem), Kuldeep Yadav who has been sitting idle for two years while going around with the team, picks up two and might have had Root himself early on but for a dropped catch.
It is remarkable that sitting among the reserves in Chennai were K.L. Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Jasprit Bumrah, Wriddhiman Saha, Washington Sundar, Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur, all top performers in recent years. Indian cricket never had it so good.
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