RAVICHANDRAN ASHWIN
Illustration- Vasim Maner

Ravichandran Ashwin is polished and suave with a nerdy vibe. He was a student of Information Technology at one of the leading engineering colleges in Chennai and to his credit earned his four-year degree, while simultaneously playing Under-19 cricket -something not many can boast of.

He belongs to a select group of spinners from southern India who happen to be engineers by education. There is no dearth of inspiration for he has the likes of S Venkataraghavan and Anil Kumble to emulate.

But he has already taken some giant strides and made his mark in both domestic and international cricket. He is a key member of the most successful franchise in the most prestigious domestic T20 league in the world.

Conventionally, he is the seventh-highest on wickets tally and only number sixteen in bowling averages (for a minimum of 30 matches) but when seen through the Impact Index sieve, R Ashwin is the fifth-highest impact bowler in the history of the Indian Premier League after Lasith Malinga, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harbhajan Singh and Sunil Narine.

Ashwin is the fourth-best restrictive bowler in IPL history after Sunil Narine, Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan.

CONSISTENT AND RESTRICTIVE -HIS DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD

The ability to restrict opposition batsmen is as important as the ability to pick wickets in T20 cricket. Contrary to popular perception and his competitive personality, wicket-taking is not Ashwin’s forte in T20 cricket (as opposed to Test cricket where he is the fastest Indian and the second-quickest overall to reach 200 wickets).

It is his frugality with the ball and his ability to restrict opposition batsmen and the consistency with which he does so, which makes him the high impact bowler he is.

Ashwin is the fourth-best restrictive bowler in IPL history (minimum of 30 matches) after Sunil Narine, Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan. This is even more impressive considering the fact that Dhoni often brings him on within the powerplay to stem the flow of runs.

Ashwin’s remarkable consistency with the ball is his other forte. He has played 111 of his 195 T20 matches for CSK in the IPL and is amongst the ten most consistent bowlers in IPL history.

Ashwin has played a pivotal role in CSK’s dominance in the IPL and CLT20.

Vs Kolkata Knight Riders, Indian Premier League, 2009/10, Chennai: Dhoni gave the new ball to Ashwin as Kolkata opted to bat first. The off-spinner got a double breakthrough as he accounted for Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum in his second over. He then got David Hussey stumped off the first ball of his next -Kolkata were in tatters at 19 for 4 in the fifth over. They recovered to make 139 but an unbroken 137-run second-wicket stand between Vijay and Raina powered Chennai to a thumping victory.

Chennai went on to win their first IPL. Ashwin was the find of the tournament. He was the second-highest impact bowler after Muttiah Muralitharan. 

He displayed two traits - consistency and ability to restrict opposition batsmen, which would become his quintessential qualities in years to come.

He was the most restrictive bowler and the joint-second-most consistent (along with Muralitharan and only after Harbhajan) with a failure rate of just 17% – he failed in only two of the twelve matches he bowled in. He also displayed the best ability to put pressure on opposition batsmen by picking up two or more wickets in quick succession ( Pressure-Building Impact ).

Ashwin was rewarded for his stupendous performance in the IPL with an international debut a couple of months later. He wore his first cap for India against Sri Lanka in an ODI tri-series in Zimbabwe.

CSK did a double in 2010 by winning the Champions Trophy in South Africa in September. Ashwin ended up as the leading wicket-taker -13 wickets in 6 matches at 12 apiece. He narrowly missed out on a TD in the final where he picked up two top/middle order wickets giving away just 16 runs in his 4 overs. He was the second-highest impact bowler in the tournament, again after Muralitharan. He kept the batsmen on a tight leash (high Economy Impact ) and showed remarkable consistency (17% failure rate) and failed in just one match in the tournament.

Vs Royal Challengers Bangalore, Final, Indian Premier League, 2011, Chennai: Batting first, Michael Hussey and Murali Vijay put together a 159-run opening wicket stand to help Chennai amass 205. R Ashwin was entrusted with the new ball by MS Dhoni and the captain’s gamble paid off. Ashwin got rid of the dangerous Chris Gayle off the fourth-ball of the innings for a duck (Gayle was the highest scorer of the tournament with 608 runs at an average of 68 and strike rate of 183 including 2 centuries and 3 fifties. He was also the highest impact batsman of the tournament if tournament-defining performances were not considered).                                    

Bangalore’s camp was demoralized. Ashwin then castled Mayank Agarwal in the third over to leave Bangalore struggling at 16 for 2 -a setback from which they could not quite recover, kept losing wickets at regular intervals and could only muster 147, falling well short of the target. Ashwin’s match-winning 3-16 in 4 overs is the only tournament-defining (TD) performance of his career.

He ended the tournament as the highest impact bowler and the second- highest impact player (after Suresh Raina). His inherent qualities of consistency and economy, again came to the fore. Only Vettori and Malinga had a higher Economy Impact than him in the tournament.

Ashwin continued to be Mr Dependable for CSK. They were the runner’s-up in the IPL in 2012 , 2013 and 2015. Ashwin was their highest impact bowler in 2012, their second-highest impact bowler (after Dwayne Bravo) in 2013 and their third-highest impact bowler in 2015 (after Ashish Nehra and Dwayne Bravo) .

Ashwin’s Bowling Impact in IPL is 26% higher as compared to his Bowling Impact in T20Is.

T20IS -A STRUGGLE OUTSIDE THE SUB-CONTINENT

Ashwin hasn’t tasted the same success in international T20 cricket. His impact as a bowler is 26% higher in the IPL as compared to T20Is.

The reason for this is ‘conditions’. Most of his IPL and CLT20 success has been in favourable conditions on spinner-friendly and slow tracks in India (except CLT20, 2010 in South Africa).

But in 14 of his 45 T20I matches outside the sub-continent, his Bowling Impact is less than 1 -which means he has failed as a bowler. In fact, his impact in sub-continent T20Is is 128% higher than his impact elsewhere -that is a huge fall.

But, even while representing India, he has still been able to retain his stand-out quality of being miserly and is the third-most restrictive bowler after Harbhajan Singh and Jasprit Bumrah. He also happens to display the best ability to build pressure and break partnerships for India.

He had a brilliant campaign in the World T20 in Bangladesh in 2014, where he was the second-highest impact bowler after Imran Tahir. 2-15 in 4 overs against Bangladesh, 4-11 in 3.2 overs against Australia (including the wickets of Finch, Warner and Maxwell) and 3-22 in 4 overs against South Africa (including the wickets of du Plessis, Amla and AB de Villiers) were some of his high impact performances, all in winning causes. India lost to Sri Lanka in the final and Ashwin could not deliver a big-match performance.

India hosted the next World T20 in 2016 and Ashwin had a great chance to improve on his international T20 record in home conditions with home crowd support but failed in three of the five matches. More importantly, he failed in the two knockout matches that India played against Australia and West Indies as India crashed out against the latter in the semi-final. With Ashwin having an unprecedented Test run, it remains to be seen whether he is as invested in T20s as he was when he made his IPL debut under Dhoni.

 

 

Nikhil Narain

NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.