India vs New Zealand: Ravi Ashwin is more than the complete bowler; he is now the complete sportsman
Ashwin's hunger for wickets has never been easily satisfied. Having earned a rest in the ODI series, he now has a chance to give his bowling finger some much needed downtime, and plot and pickle his plans for the next adversary: England
If fabric retail giant Raymonds are looking for a new brand ambassador for their iconic 'The Complete Man' commercial, Ravichandran Ashwin would not be a bad fit. It's not just that one can easily imagine Ashwin portrayed in the backdrop of the mellifluous tune that is synonymous with the campaign; it's also that his journey as a cricketer seems to have brought him to a point where he has almost everything.
Nothing says "on top of your game" like a career-best performance. If Ashwin's match figures of 13/140 in the Indore Test were the cake, the 3-0 whitewash over New Zealand was the icing. Except that this cake had yet another layer of icing on it: the successful retention of the number one ranking. And considering the long home season ahead, most teams would be hard pressed to stop India from gorging on their cake for some time to come.
Ashwin also won yet another man-of-the-series award, taking him to fifth on the all-time list. Far more significantly, however, his awards-to-series ratio is easily the best of the lot. He has already won seven match-of-the-series awards, in the 14 tournaments he has played thus far, a staggering ratio of 50 percent. Next on that list are two greats of the game: Imran Khan and Malcolm Marshall, their ratio though, is roughly 28 percent.
In terms of strike-rate, average number of balls bowled between wickets, Ashwin has surpassed all the modern spin kings. At 49.4, he is ahead of Mutthiah Muralitharan (55), Shane Warne (57), Rangana Herath (62.1) and Graeme Swann (60.1). It is an illustrious list to be a part of, and even more so to be on top of it.
While his inner engineer will revel in these little statistical victories, the aesthete in Ashwin is more likely to choose another, smaller stat — four out of four — the number of times he has dismissed New Zealand skipper and the visitors' key batsman Kane Williamson. To imagine what this means to Ashwin, imagine the joy an opposition bowler would get if he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar every time the Master Blaster batted in a Test series. With this domination of Williamson, Ashwin has sent out a message to Joe Root and Steve Smith, who along with Virat Kohli, are considered the four best batsmen in the present age.
"Once I get into a good rhythm, I can beat any batter in the world; that is where I stand right now," he said, with not a trace of hubris, after getting Williamson for the third time.
The proverbial glove has been laid down. Both Root and Smith are set to tour India later this winter, and the prospect will have cricket fans drooling like a dog in a car window.
Given the crackdown on bent elbows in recent years, one imagines that seeing an off-spinner enjoy such success would be like trying to find amorphous salt. And yet both exist.
Ashwin even boasts the ability to beat the batter off the pitch, though over the years, he has shown more faith in his stock ball, and that has made his variations all the more potent.
But most tellingly, it is with the bat that Ashwin may redefine this Indian team. A Test average of over 30 and four centuries to his credit shows the all-round potential in the Tamil Nadu cricketer, and if India and Kohli play five bowlers (which is more likely to happen away than at home), Ashwin could become a regular number six. He responded admirably to that challenge presented to him by the management in the West Indies (although they must count as his bunny team now). His contributions with the bat, more than anything, will decide if he can really inherit the title of Mr Cricket, which Stephen Fleming seems insistent on awarding him.
What more does the man who has become the fastest Indian to 20 five-wicket hauls want? It was who Kohli gave us a glimpse into the possible answer. "I want this team to be remembered as one of the finest Test teams ever," he said after the whitewash. Ashwin and his teammates are now chasing a more capricious target: Not just victory, but immortality.
Last year, Gautam Singhania, chairman and managing director of Raymonds, had this to say about the advertising campaign that his company had built its image on for the last 25 years: "It is an aspirational position; you can never become the complete man."
Just so, Ashwin's hunger for wickets has never been easily satisfied. Having earned a rest in the ODI series, he now has a chance to give his bowling finger some much needed downtime, and plot and pickle his plans for the next adversary: England.
For, what does the Complete Man always demand? More.
India vs England: Virat Kohli labels Indian bowling performance at Oval as one of the 'top three' in his captaincy
The Oval track did not offer much assistance to the fast bowlers but Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur shared seven wickets to bundle out England for 210, scripting India's comprehensive 157-run win.
Bumrah's has bowled 151 overs already in the past one month, including 22 intense overs on the fourth and fifth day of the Oval Test which India won by 157 runs.
IPL 2021: Form, fitness, and a certain Virat Kohli - lots to look forward to as action resumes in UAE
At best of times, IPL is a relentless examination of players’ skills, temperament, and fitness. In times of bubble fatigue and the looming COVID threat, the test becomes unforgiving. Add to it the impending World Cup, and IPL 2021 becomes a true box office material.