India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin on Monday became the fastest bowler to reach the milestone of 300 Test wickets in his 54th match, breaking Dennis Lillee’s record during India’s huge win over Sri Lanka in the second Test at Nagpur. Aussie legend Lillee had reached the milestone in 56 Tests way back in 1981, and it took 36 years for another bowler to eclipse the feat.
That Ashwin has been on a roll sounds like an understatement. Ever since his 21-wickert series haul in September 2015 helped India end an agonising 22-year-long wait for a Test series victory in Sri Lanka, the lanky Chennai offie has emerged as an outright match-winner. This year, the offie has scalped 52 wickets from 10 matches, the second highest behind South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada (54). Yes, critics may argue that Ashwin has not yet proven his mettle outside the spin friendly tracks in the subcontinental. But that can’t undermine Ashwin’s pivotal role behind India’s ascent to the top of the ICC Test rankings, where it sits pretty with a 14-point cushion over second placed South Africa.
But no matter what, one would always say that we can’t call Ashwin a truly great bowler unless he performs outside the sub-continent, on hard bouncy pitches in Australia, South Africa, England and New Zealand. But the story has been the same for generations now. Most spinners from the sub-continent falter in overseas conditions, just as most seamers from foreign countries fail to get going on low, dusty Asian tracks. If one applies the oversees success benchmark to measure the greatness of Indian spinners, most big names will look pretty ordinary. The legendary spin quartet of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Bishan Singh Bedi and EAS Prasanna’s individual averages away from home read 32.66, 30.64, 33.72 and 33.85, respectively. Even modern greats like Anil Kumble (35.85) and Harbhajan Singh (38.9) have worse numbers than Ashwin (31.75) when it comes to weaving their magic outside spin friendly home turfs.
At 31, Ashwin still has age on his sides. And given the determination he has sown in recent times, one can rightfully expect Ashwin to master every condition and come on top —be it at home, or away.