It is not always about the numbers but cricket does place a great deal of significance on it and so it should come as no surprise when cricketers keep track of theirs. After picking up his 200th Test wicket, becoming the second-fastest player in the history of Tests to do so as well, Ravichandran Ashwin spoke about his career, not just in numbers but also in terms of the memories that were created.
One of the best ways to judge the quality of any player is to measure how well they perform against others who are among the best at what they do. So for a bowler, while it is easy to determine how well they have performed purely on the basis of just how many wickets they have got, it is important to look at the quality of wickets.
While cricket may be about quantity, the greatness of a player should be determined on the basis of quality and that is why a bowler should be judged by how well he performs against the best batsman in the opposition.
In this regard, R Ashwin has been in sublime form over the last year. In the Test series against Sri Lanka and South Africa, Ashwin was brilliant against Kumar Sangakkara and AB de Villiers (the best batsman in their respective teams) and continued to get them out. And even in the ongoing series, he got the wicket of NZ’s best batsman, Kane Williamson in both innings.
In Sangakkara’s last two Tests of an illustrious career, Ashwin got him out all four times while he got AB out in the Nagpur Test with a carrom ball and arguably the world’s best Test batsman at the moment, Williamson with a delivery that spun viciously in both innings after a spell of concerted pressure.
Speaking about his most cherished memories, Ashwin admitted that Williamson wasn’t a “bad 200th scalp and spoke about the dismissals of Sangakkara and AB as well.
"There are quite a few good wickets that I've had over a period of time. AB de Villiers in Nagpur was very well set up. Kane Williamson in this Test match in the first innings, I thought was a very, very good ball. Kumar Sangakkara in Sri Lanka… These are some special memories that I'll always cherish in my cricketing career. I hope I can create more and more in the future,” he said.
While he may not have been the fastest to 200 Test scalps, he still admitted that he is happy where he is with his cricket.
"Maybe Clarrie Grimmett was a nicer man than I am," Ashwin joked. "I think it just had to be that way. It's fine, honestly. There are a lot of positives to look at and lots of good memories that I've created over the last five-six years of international cricket, and to look back and feel sore about it [the rain] is not the right way to go about my career. So, I’m just happy where I am right now.”
Ashwin’s verdict on the pitch debate and his unsuccessful away trips
While he has had a brilliant time with the ball since 2015, where he has picked up 86 wickets (including the ongoing match) in just 14 matches, it hasn’t always been easy. Speaking about the South Africa series in 2013/14 when India failed to bowl out the Proteas in nearly five sessions and Ashwin missed seven of India’s nine Tests outside Asia, the off-spinner admitted that that phase taught him a lot.
Even in this game, which he played with a corn on his finger and after not bowling too much over the last month, the work he did on improving himself are evident. Even during the game, he is aware of the tactics employed by the opposition and described the way he bowled to the visitors’ left-hand batsman as a necessary change in angle.
So while he has been successful on wickets that offer him assistance, he was keen not to get dragged into the debate of whether India should produce pitches like the ones in Kanpur or those produced for the South Africa series.
Before the start of the series, India’s leading wicket-taker as far as off-spinners are concerned, Harbhajan Singh advised India to not play in rank turners and Ashwin was quick to swat the question aside.
“To be very honest, what kind of wickets we are playing is not something that [Ani] Kumble or [Virat] Kohli can go and roll wickets or water it,” he said.
While he admitted that their aim is to play good cricket irrespective of the wicket, the nature of the pitch will take some sheen away from their performances. And he wondered why only in India people talk about the pitch in India.
”If a Test match in England gets over in two days, nobody talks about it. Why in India, though?” he said. That is certainly something that must make everyone ponder, because, if you are getting the best batsmen in the world out, the pitch that you play on shouldn’t make as big an impact when judging just how good you are.
For now though Ashwin must have to be content with his records, his incredible bowling at home and recovering completely, but most importantly securing a win in the first Test and taking a 1-0 lead in the three-match Test series against India.