Ravichandran Ashwin had wished Yasir Shah ahead of the Test series against West Indies on social media    Getty Images and AFP
Ravichandran Ashwin had wished Yasir Shah ahead of the Test series against West Indies on social media Getty Images and AFP

Cricket statisticians and website editors had a field day when Azhar Ali scored that mammoth 302, and rightly so, for three hundred is a massive number unless you are defending Sparta. Misbah-ul-Haq had declared on 579 for 3 to stop everyone at the ground (about a hundred) from falling asleep. There were about ninety minutes left in the day, and Pakistan needed at least one wicket, a difficult task on the Dubai wicket. Yasir Shah responded, trapping Leon Johnson leg-before (for some reason Johnson reviewed it). It was not a big wicket, but it was a wicket, and on this Dubai wicket, it mattered.

It was also the 96th Test wicket for Yasir, who had missed out on being the quickest to 100 Test wickets earlier in the year. It did not seem to deter him. Had he not failed in the second and third Tests in England he would have been there before the Dubai Test. He had missed out on a world record, but this was not too bad either.

Ravichandran Ashwin is clearly having the time of his life. It is not every day that you take 13 wickets in a Test, but Ashwin did. He has been taking enough wickets to make readers do a double-take when they check news. Two rain-affected matches one last year, one this year had stopped Ashwin from becoming the quickest to 200 Test wickets. It was nobody s fault, certainly not Ashwin s, but if you are set out to break a record that has been standing for nearly a century, you need some help from the nature.

Yasir gave Pakistan their second wicket too. Kraigg Brathwaite is young, but in the current West Indian crop, he is one of the limited few who look to protect his wicket. Yasir tossed one up. Brathwaite reached for it but it was too short. The ball drifted. Brathwaite responded. He could have hoped for the ball to beat his bat and the stumps. The ball only beat the bat. West Indies were 69 for 2.

They call Yasir the Lionel Messi of cricket not for his success but because he is a universally-accepted doppelganger of the legend from Argentina and of Barcelona. Had they sat back and pondered for a while they might even have compared the achievements: Yasir s 100 wickets have come at a remarkable 27.32 without playing at home; George Lohmann, the only one to reach there faster, was a 19th-century cricketer; and the three men with whom Yasir share the second spot all played their cricket before World War II, two of them before World War I.

Ashwin had taken one Test more than Yasir to reach the 100-wicket mark. As for the 200-wicket mark, he stands tall as the sole finger-spinner in an ocean of fast bowlers and wrist-spinners: Ashwin reached there in 38 Tests; Muttiah Muralitharan was next in 42; everyone else took more than 45.

West Indies blunted out Yasir efficiently throughout Day Three. Darren Bravo hung around grimly for close to four hundred minutes. Marlon Samuels got 76. There was resistance from Jermaine Blackwood as well. Yasir s mates failed him after he had taken out both openers. West Indies went to stumps at 315 for 6. There was yet another questionable review this time by Shane Dowrich immediately after play resumed on Day Four: it was plumb. Yasir was 2 wickets away.

Shane Warne idolised Abdul Qadir and patronises Yasir. Qadir took 236 wickets at 32.80. His away numbers read a ridiculous 47.58. For Yasir everything is technically away from home, but outside UAE his 53 wickets have come at 29.77. Those 53 wickets have come from 9 Tests; the 47 wickets in UAE have come from another 8 (7-and-a-half, strictly speaking, for he is yet to bowl in the fourth innings of the ongoing Test).

India rarely had world-class bowlers. Even the greatest had failed to breach that coveted bar of 25 when it came to bowling average. Not Kapil Dev, not Anil Kumble, no one. Ashwin is there with 220 wickets at 24.29. The only other Indian with 50 wickets and a sub-25 average is, well, Ravindra Jadeja.

A lot was expected of Yasir when he took the flight to England. He got 19 wickets from 4 Tests, which was more than impressive, but they came at 40.73. There is, however, more than that to Yasir s adventures: at Lord s he took 6 for 72 and 4 for 69; Pakistan won by 75 runs. At The Oval he had 0 for 60 and 5 for 71; England got 328 and 253 and Pakistan won by 10 wickets. In Tests Pakistan won Yasir took 13 wickets at 18.13; in the ones they lost his 6 wickets came at 125.50. It was as if he was set out to disprove the (valid) conjecture that one man cannot win a contest of eleven versus eleven.

Ashwin averages 33.23 away from home. His 67 wickets have come from 17 Tests, but one must remember that 17 of these came in 4 Tests in West Indies a team that has been so poor in the longest version that they may be offended if they are not classified as minnows . He has been exceptional in Sri Lanka and acceptable (under-bowled, to be fair) in England, but his numbers in the 7 Tests in Australia and South Africa (21 wickets from 7 Tests at 59.86) have been nothing short of poor. Those equipped with nostalgia-drenched, rose-tinted glasses and armed with numbers do not mean anything seldom fail to point out the Southern-Hemisphere failures of India s ace bowler and rightly so. To be honest, despite taking 7 wickets a Test on an average at home, those are numbers Ashwin needs to look at and work on.

Yasir tossed up again. If Jason Holder had been shaken up after being hit on the grille of his helmet by Mohammad Aamer, his approach did not say show. Captains cannot afford to show nerves. Holder reached out. He played for the leg-break. It was a googly. End of story.

Yasir had won a Test series in Sri Lanka 2-1. Ashwin had done the same almost immediately afterwards. On that tour Yasir had taken 24 wickets from 3 Tests at 19.33; Ashwin, 21 at 18.09 on his tour. Between them they had ruined Kumar Sangakkara s swansong. Those were the series that made the world take notice of Yasir and Ashwin, the spinners of the 2010s, en route the most formidable international pair since Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan. If they keep delivering for another five years, they may even have the most intense battle in Asian Test cricket named after them.

Misbah had reviewed a leg-before appeal against Miguel Cummins immediately after that Holder wicket. The ball had brushed a glove. So Yasir decided to bypass umpires completely: a huge leg-break crashed ont the stumps. And they celebrated, for they had waited for this moment a much-deserved moment for a once-in-a-generation champion before that flight had taken off for England. Yasir had not been the quickest, but only marginally so.

Ashwin had wished Yasir luck before the Test. He is such a delight to watch, Ashwin had complimented, as good as echoing the words of Warne and Anil Kumble, a pair who had been quick enough to spot their successor.

Ashwin seems to be improving with every Test. He has honed his batting skills. It will not be an exaggeration to brand him as an all-rounder. He hoodwinked the New Zealand batsmen into submission. Ashwin does not over-experiment anymore: he waits, he reads batsmen inside out, attacks them, waits if that does not work, lures them, waits more if that does not work, gets them into a false sense of security, and eventually gets them out.

Yasir does the same. He has variations of a different kind. He turns the ball more, as is expected when one pits a wrist-spinner against a finger-spinner. Unlike most leg-spinners, he believes in containing batsmen as well as trying to get them out, just like Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O Reilly decades back.

The aura around them is almost similar both come across as patient and intelligent with repertoire that often give the casual viewer of the Occident the impression of a Wizard of the East. They are mysterious, guileful, lethal, and silent.

The past few months have been about Ashwin the bowler, Ashwin the all-rounder as Yasir waited and waited, watching India reclaim the No. 1 spot for no fault of his, just like Ashwin had seen India lose theirs for no fault of his. And now, the moment he got a chance, Yasir put those 5 wickets out of his way, saying hi to Ashwin; and Ashwin responded.

The contest is there, but a healthy one; and despite the lack of contest in Test cricket this autumn (or fall , as those on the other side of The Atlantic would say) it may be the best season for spin bowling in recent time. Indeed, exciting days lie ahead for the connoisseurs of the art.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)