Ravichandran Ashwin - slowly filling the void created by Anil Kumble's exit

Ravichandran Ashwin (left) may be an off-spinner, but there are lot of similarities with Anil Kumble (right) © Getty Images

By Aayush Puthran

 

The fine evening of November 2, 2008 was witnessing a dull draw between India and Australia at the Feroz Shah Kotla. The Kotla crowd had already lauded Sourav Ganguly’s contribution to cricket and had witnessed his one last dance down the pitch to hit a clean six out of the Delhi ground. A few waited till the end of the dull affair to catch some more moments of Ganguly on the field with posters of “We will miss you, Dada” held at various parts of the ground. Against the run of play, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan announced over the mike at the commentary box, “Breaking news, ladies and gentlemen. Anil Kumble has decided to retire from Test cricket after this match”. The spotlight shifted on Kumble – Kotla’s favourite child.

 

The former Tamil Nadu spinner went on to explain how a bowler who hardly spun the ball, took his place in the team and ended up being probably India’s greatest match-winner ever.

 

Yes, a bowler who could hardly spin the ball managed to decimate oppositions, became only the second man in cricket to pick up 10 wickets in an innings and ended up being the third highest wicket-taker ever in Test cricket when he retired.

 

When the big man from Karnataka did decide to hang his boots, it was almost assured that his partner in crime Harbhajan Singh will have to assume the role of the senior spinner in the team. But the Punjab offie has endured a torrid time in his senior partner’s absence.

 

Taking rapid strides during the phase when Indian spinners were being outplayed was Ravichandran Ashwin. Like Kumble, questions were raised over his selection as well. He didn’t turn the ball a great deal, his selection was based on his performance in Twenty20 cricket and his records in domestic cricket weren’t exceptional.

 

Ashwin had impressed everyone with his skills in limited-overs cricket. And if Kumble bowled brilliantly at the death in ODIs in the 90s, Ashwin was a force to reckon with in powerplays. But Test cricket was a different ball game. Especially for a ‘spinner who can’t spin!’ But with consistent performance, he has managed to cement his place in the side.

 

While many believed Ashwin had taken Harbhajan’s place in the Test team, it is almost tough to ignore the fact that he is slowly filling the boots of a bigger player – Anil Kumble.

 

Built similarly like Kumble, Ashwin makes fielding look ugly – much like Kumble did. Both men do not look pretty while diving on the field. Even Ashwin’s stump-to-stump line stands testimony on how he relies on accuracy over spin to get wickets. His 12-wicket haul in the first Test against New Zealand at Hyderabad proves beyond doubt that he is as effective as any other spinner on Indian wickets. Aided by four five-wicket hauls and one four-wicket scalp, Ashwin has already snapped 43 wickets in 13 innings.

 

But what makes the Chennai spinner most similar to Kumble is his mental toughness and aggression. Without crossing the line, Ashwin is as aggressive and intense on the field as the Karnataka stalwart. MS Dhoni testified for Ashwin’s mental toughness when he had said “He is quite matured and is mentally tough,” during the 2011 ICC World Cup.

 

Although Ashwin had a quiet tour Down Under, given his talent, it seems obvious that over a period of time, like Kumble, he too will master the art of destroying the English and the Australians in their own den.

 

In the meanwhile, Harbhajan can relax, as it is not just the hard skill that makes Ashwin look a more likely candidate to take over the mantle of the senior statesman in the team. For the second spot in the playing XI, despite tough competition, is still up for grabs.

 

(While enjoying the small joys of life, rarely has anything mesmerised Aayush Puthran more than cricket. A student of Journalism in Mumbai, he is trying to figure out two things: ways to make Test cricket a commercial hot property and the best way to beat Mumbai traffic. He has a certain sense of obsession with novelty. He might seem confused, but he is just battling a thousand demons within his mind. Nonetheless, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of coffee! )