Ravichandran Ashwin has been responsible for spearheading India's bowling for nearly a year now, especially during the home Test season. The ace off-spinner had been a revelation for the Indians in the previous edition of the Champions Trophy, and he will certainly look to continue his talismanic touch in the tournament this year as well.
The challenge that awaits the wily Tamil Nadu off-spinner in the upcoming tournament is two-fold. The first is that of plying his trade on non-conducive tracks in England after playing for nearly a year on rank turners. The second will be carrying his Test momentum over to the one-day internationals (ODI), keeping his lack of success in recent limited-overs fixtures in mind.
He might have made a name for himself in the art of spin bowling, but it was batting that Ashwin first tried to specialise in. During his days at the U-14 and U-17 levels, Ashwin used to walk out to bat at the top of the order. He may not have continued in that role for long, but it did have a long-term impact on him, as is evident in the four Test centuries against his name, aside from 10 half-centuries.
Ashwin is more than just handy down the order, and started batting at No 6 in the recent Tests, ahead of a more fancied batsman in Wriddhiman Saha. Two centuries in the Test series against West Indies away last year, one of which came at a time when the Indians were in the dire straits, along with a few useful half-centuries throughout the home season, bear testament to that fact.
Ashwin had a rather quiet entry into international cricket back in 2010 during the ODI tri-series featuring Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, making his Test debut a year later in the home series against West Indies. While he was yet to get a breakthrough in the international scene, he was making steady progress in the Indian Premier League (IPL), playing under Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
It was the 2013 edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that can be marked out as the turning point in his career. Finishing with 29 wickets in the four-Test series, becoming only the third Indian after Erapalli Prasanna and Harbhajan Singh to bag 25-plus wickets in a Test series, he announced himself to the world. It was the beginning of a new chapter in Indian cricket.
Over the next few years, Ashwin's rise to stardom in the sport coincided with the steady decline of Harbhajan as the No 1 spin option for Dhoni and Co, with the latter eventually falling out of the selectors' favour.
After an average outing in the 2014-15 edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy Down Under, as well as in the ICC World Cup co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand, Ashwin had to wait till the Test tour of Sri Lanka later in 2015 to get back among the wickets. He reached a new level of success in the Freedom Trophy (the name BCCI and CSA came up with for the India-South Africa Test series). It was in this series that the deadly combination between Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja first came to the fore, and they shared 54 wickets between them as India weaved a web around the Proteas to record a 3-0 series win. Ashwin, claimed 31 of those 54 scalps.
It was a little tweak to his bowling action that worked wonders for him, and he has been using some of his special deliveries such as the carrom and the arm balls to deadly effect since his slump in the 2014-15 season. Ashwin is known to be a slow starter, especially in Tests, where he might take up to an entire session to get his first breakthrough. However, the moment he gains some momentum with a wicket, there's no stopping him from creating havoc, and triggering a collapse.
Going back to his recent form, there are chances of Ashwin being a little rusty after a long break. He did not have the best of outings in the Test series against Australia earlier this year, and had skipped the IPL completely, with a case of sports hernia being cited as the official reason. As far as his limited overs record in the recent past goes, his last successful outing in the shorter formats was in the three-T20I series against Sri Lanka at home.
The champion player that he is however, it might not take him long to return to the destructive ways of the old.