Ravichandran Ashwin is a world-class bowler, he has 336 Test wickets at a fantastic average of 25.44. Of all Indian bowlers, he sits fourth on the highest wicket-takers list, and before his career is over he could well be somewhere close to the top. Right now, the idea of him surpassing the Indian record 619 wickets that Anil Kumble took in his career seems unlikely, but at 32-years-old and with the amount of cricket India play he may well get close.
That those 336 wickets have come in just 64 Tests is really quite remarkable. In fact, Ashwin is the fastest to 300 Test wickets, getting there in just 54 matches going past the 56-match mark set by Dennis Lillee. He will finish his career as one of the all-time great Indian Test players. But there will be a big question mark over his career when he retires, and that is his record overseas.
The contrast between how he has done in home Tests and those away from India is stark. In India, he has 234 wickets at an average of 22.68. At home, he has 20 five-wicket hauls and six 10-wicket matches. When he is away from home, he has 102 wickets at an average of 31.78 with six five-wicket hauls and one 10-wicket match.
In Asia, he has 277 wickets and all but two of his five-wicket hauls have come in that continent. Those have come at an outstanding average of 22.46. Away from Asia, he has 59 wickets at an average of a touch under 40. The only place where he has replicated the same success he has had in Asian conditions has been when he has toured the Caribbean and played against a struggling Windies side on pitches that are more spin than seam friendly.
Ashwin had success in England in the recently concluded Test series, taking 11 wickets at an average of 32 across the four matches that he played. A very acceptable return in unfamiliar conditions.
However, when England's Moeen Ali took nine wickets in the Southampton Test, Ashwin managed just three in the match and a distinctly average 1/84 from 34 overs in England's second innings. Whilst in India he is unstoppable, when he is away from home his attacking edge doesn't disappear, but it becomes massively dulled.
So, it is with all of this in mind that Ashwin heads into a massive series in Australia, a series that India have a very good chance of winning. Something they have never managed to do on Australian shores. In his six previous Tests in Australia things have been tough. 21 wickets at 54.71 with a best bowling performance of 4/105.
It isn't just Ashwin who has struggled in Australia, it has not been a happy hunting ground for visiting off-spinners over the years. The most successful visiting off-spinner since 2000 has been Graeme Swann, who managed 15 wickets at 39.8 in England's 2010/11 victory over Australia. Ashwin himself is actually in the top ten of best returns for a series by an off-spinner over that time period, the 12 wickets he claimed at 48.66 in 2014/15.
Ashwin has a real chance to improve both his record away from India and in Australia on this tour. Australia are a very different proposition at home than anywhere else in the world, but they are weaker right now than at any point in the last 20 years. Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, all of whom would be first choice players in Australia's top six, will be missing because of their involvement in the ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town in March.
Even with Smith, Warner and Bancroft in the team this Australian side has had issues facing spin bowling. Since 2013 Australia have played 17 Tests in Asia, winning two, drawing two and losing 13. When the ball has turned they have crumbled more often that not. The question for Ashwin is whether he can find the purchase and cutting edge in Australia that he does in more familiar conditions at home. From what we have seen from him before, that is a big ask, but if he was ever going to put in match-winning performances away from Asian conditions this is his chance to do so.
If the Indian seamers can get early wickets and Ashwin gets a chance to have a real crack at Australia's flabby middle order, you have to think that he can make some serious inroads. He has the skills, and his overseas record is remarkably poor considering just how good he is. Australia are there for the taking. Ashwin needs to step up and show the world that he can take advantage of that.
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