When Mehedi Hasan Miraz and Shakib Al Hasan ran through the English batting order in the second and final Test at Dhaka's Sher-e-Bangla Stadium, the buzz was not only about the emergence of Bangladesh as a Test side, but also the daunting task that Alastair Cook's men faced across the border in the form of facing one Ravichandran Ashwin.
India seek to avenge their 1-3 humiliation at the hands of England in their 2014 tour when they take on the side in a marathon five-Test series. Their hopes are primarily fixed on the wily off-spinner from Tamil Nadu who has been the destroyer-in-chief for Test captain Virat Kohli in recent years.
Though Ashwin may have produced mixed results in the shorter formats — looking far from his best in Australia and during the World T20, while topping the bowling charts in the T20I series against Sri Lanka — his form in Tests since the Freedom Trophy against South Africa last year has been nothing short of exceptional.
It is that form which propelled him to the top of the ICC Test bowler's rankings, a position that he reclaimed after spinning the Black Caps out, to play a major role in their 3-0 whitewash last month.
After a series of consistent performances in domestic cricket and the IPL, Ashwin made his entry into the national team in 2010 during a ODI tri-series in Zimbabwe which also featured Sri Lanka, before making his Test debut against the West Indies a year later. His rise in international cricket coincided with the steady decline of veteran off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, and Ashwin soon became the first-choice spinner for MS Dhoni, especially for matches played in the subcontinent.
Among his most memorable outings was the 2013 edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, in which he took 29 wickets to become the third Indian bowler to record 25-plus scalps in a series since Erapalli Prasanna and Harbhajan. Later that year, he smashed Prasanna's record for the fastest Indian to 100 Test wickets, getting to the milestone in just his 18th appearance.
The lanky spinner is no mug with the bat either, having started his career off as an opening batsman in the U-14 and U-17 levels. Four centuries (all of them coming against the West Indies) along with six half-centuries bear testament to that fact. He shared a record 280-run partnership with Rohit Sharma while recording his second Test ton in Kolkata in 2013, and has often helped his side wriggle out of trouble after a top-order failure, as was evident in the recent tour of the Caribbean, where he slammed two more centuries.
While Ashwin's performances on surfaces outside Asia continue to be questioned, his stature as India's most effective weapon on tailor-made surfaces continues to grow with each passing tournament. After failing to make much of an impact in the 2014-'15 Test series against Australia, Ashwin topped the bowling charts in the three-Test series in Sri Lanka, as well as in the home series against South Africa (in which he took 31 of the 54 wickets along with Ravindra Jadeja).
He was the leading wicket-taker both in the Test series against the West Indies, as well as during the hosts' 3-0 whitewash of New Zealand, in which he got rid of leading opposition batsman and skipper Kane Williamson every time the latter walked out to bat. He finished with match figures of 13/140 in the final Test at Indore to climb to the No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings ahead of the likes of James Anderson and Dale Steyn.
A few tweaks to his bowling action were all that it took for him to increase his effectiveness after recording a brief slump in his career. The carrom ball, the art of which is mastered by a select few, as well as his arm balls are among his choicest weapons for running through a batting order.
Ashwin's Test record against England pales in comparison to his feats against sides such as the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand. A total of 17 wickets — 14 of which came in the 2012-'13 series — at an average of 49.29 against England is his worst against any opposition other than Bangladesh in the format. That, however, does not in any way mean that the Englishmen won't be having nightmares about him before the start of the Test series. If the visiting batsmen's spin woes in Bangladesh are anything to go by, they are in for their biggest test since their rise post the 2015 World Cup.
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