December 11, 2015

A force called Ashwin

This year has been staggeringly successful for Ashwin, whose Test stats in Asia compare favourably with the very best
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No bowler has taken as many wickets in his first 23 Tests in Asia as R Ashwin has © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

R Ashwin is in the form of his life. In the last six months he has taken 57 wickets in eight Tests, at an average of 14.38, with seven five-fors. During this period, he has taken 41% of all wickets by Indian bowlers (57 out of 138), and 70% of all five-fors (seven out of ten). He has won one Man-of-the-Match and two Man-of-the-Series awards. Things couldn't be any better for him.

Ashwin's success comes after a period of struggle, when he lacked penetration and looked toothless: in his previous six Tests, between December 2013 and January 2015, he managed only 15 wickets at 52.86, and bowled, on average, 100 deliveries per wicket. It is true that all of those six Tests were outside Asia, and all of his recent successes have been in the subcontinent, but it would be unfair to attribute all his results to only the favourable conditions: he was superb during the 2015 World Cup too in Australia and New Zealand - taking 13 wickets at 25.38 - and has since been on a roll, running circles around opposition batsmen.

His numbers in Asia are truly mind-boggling: in 23 Tests in the continent he has taken a staggering 152 wickets - that's an average of 6.6 per Test - at an average of 20.47. His wickets tally is easily the best for any bowler after his first 23 Tests in the continent. The next-best, in terms of wickets in Asia after 23 Tests, is 130, by Waqar Younis; Harbhajan Singh had 114 after his first 23 Tests in Asia, while Anil Kumble had 112. Ashwin's stats outside Asia are less flattering, but the sample size there is small too - only nine Tests: six in Australia, two in England and one in South Africa.

Ashwin's Test stats in and outside Asia
Region Tests Wickets Average SR 5WI
 in Asia  23  152  20.47  44.2  16
 outside Asia  9  24  56.58  104.2  0

Among all bowlers who have taken at least 100 wickets in Asia - there are 25 bowlers in this list - only Imran Khan has a better average than Ashwin's 20.47. Waqar comes in next at 20.64, followed by Muttiah Muralitharan (21.69) and Wasim Akram (22.53). Clearly, Ashwin is special in Asian conditions.

His average in Asia is outstanding, but how good is his average relative to the overall bowling average in these matches? Has he benefited from pitches being very bowler-friendly, and overall scores being very low in these matches? The last two columns of the table below offer some answers. In the 23 Tests that Ashwin has played in Asia, the overall bowling average is 30.32, which means his average of 20.47 is 1.48 times better than the overall average. Only two other bowlers have a better ratio (among those with 100 Test wickets in Asia) - Imran and Murali - while Shoaib Akhtar's average was 1.48 times better as well.

Kumble averaged 27 in Asia, but the matches he played here were generally more high-scoring - they produced an average of 35.64 runs per wicket - which means he was 1.32 times better than the overall average. Javagal Srinath had a marginally better average, but his ratio is poorer as he played in Tests in which fewer runs were scored. Kapil and Pragyan Ojha have poorer averages but ratios that are as good as Srinath's, as they played in games that produced more runs.

Top Test bowlers in Asia (Min 100 wickets)
Player Tests Wickets Average SR 5WI Overall ave* Ratio
 Imran Khan  51  205  20.28  48.8  12  32.29  1.59
 Muttiah Muralitharan  97  612  21.69  53.2  52  33.51  1.54
 R Ashwin  23  152  20.47  44.2  16  30.32  1.48
 Shoaib Akhtar  31  125  24.24  44.5  7  35.89  1.48
 Waqar Younis  47  215  20.64  38.2  14  28.57  1.38
 Wasim Akram  59  216  22.53  52.4  11  30.00  1.33
 Anil Kumble  82  419  27.00  61.3  27  35.64  1.32
 Pragyan Ojha  24  113  30.26  67.5  7  37.61  1.24
 Javagal Srinath  36  119  26.31  55.3  6  32.58  1.24
 Kapil Dev  86  279  29.01  59.8  14  35.87  1.24
* Overall bowling average in the Tests that he played in Asia

The strike force
In 2015, Ashwin has taken a wicket every 36.4 balls, which is fourth-best among the 783 instances when a bowler has bowled at least 250 overs in any calendar year, and the best among spinners. The only bowlers with better strike rates in a calendar year are Waqar (29.5 in 1993), Dale Steyn (35.8 in 2008) and Sydney Barnes (36.0 in 1912). Among the top ten in this list, Ashwin is the only spinner; the next-best among spinners is Murali's 39.2 in 2006, while the next-best among all Indian bowlers is Zaheer Khan's 39.8 in 2010. (Click here for the full list.)

Best strike rates in Tests in a calendar year (Min 250 overs)
Player Year Tests Wkts Ave SR 5
 Waqar Younis  1993  7  55  15.23  29.5  6
 Dale Steyn  2008  13  74  20.01  35.8  5
 Sydney Barnes  1912  9  61  14.14  36.0  8
 R Ashwin  2015  9  62  17.20  36.4  7
 Makhaya Ntini  2006  10  58  21.60  37.1  5
 Dennis Lillee  1977  5  41  18.29  37.8  5
 Imran Khan  1982  9  62  13.29  38.0  5
 Waqar Younis  1990  9  49  17.04  38.7  5
 Dale Steyn  2010  11  60  21.41  39.0  4
 Wasim Akram  1994  7  47  17.14  39.0  4

Scourge of left-handers
In his last two series - against Sri Lanka and South Africa - Ashwin has dismissed 32 left-handers at an average of 9.96 per wicket; against right-handers, he has averaged 20.30 (20 wickets). His exceptional control, his ability to deceive batsmen with flight and guile, and his ability to turn the offspinner makes him a handful for right-handers as well, but it's clear that left-handers find him an even bigger force. In these last two Test series, he dismissed Stiaan van Zyl five times while conceding 13 runs (average 2.60), Dean Elgar four times (average 13.75), Kumar Sangakkara four times (5.75) and Lahiru Thirimanne four times (12.75). Admittedly, not all those names are exceptional players of spin, but these numbers indicate the stranglehold he has against left-handers.

In the period since Ashwin made his Test debut, no bowler has dismissed left-handers as many times as Ashwin has. In fact, no bowler has even come close. Ashwin has 100 left-handers' wickets, at an average of 18.44, which is also the best among bowlers who have taken at least ten left-hander wickets during this period. The next-best in terms of wickets in Trent Boult with 62, while Mitchell Johnson's average of 20.30 is the closest to Ashwin's 18.44.

Ashwin v right- and left-hand batsmen in Tests
Batting Hand Wickets Average SR
 Left-hand batsmen  100  18.44  41.93
 Right-hand batsmen  76  34.55  66.2
Best averages v left-hand batsmen since Nov 2011 (Min 20 wkts)
Bowler Wickets Average SR
 R Ashwin  100  18.44  41.93
 Mitchell Johnson  49  20.30  34.39
 Graeme Swann  42  20.40  50.60
 Ryan Harris  30  20.53  46.20
 Vernon Philander  38  22.76  45.50
 Yasir Shah  34  24.05  43.82
 James Anderson  59  24.11  53.44
 Trent Boult  62  24.98  48.44
 Dale Steyn  47  25.21  46.87
 Kemar Roach  31  25.83  53.23

New-ball specialist
With India often playing home Tests on turning tracks, there have been situations requiring a spinner to take the new ball: Ashwin has answered that call every time. He has opened the bowling 19 times - 13 of them at home - and has taken 70 wickets in those innings at an average of 17.37. Only three spinners have taken more wickets in innings when they have opened the bowling - Hugh Trimble, Bobby Peel and Colin Blythe - and they all played more than 100 years ago. Ashwin has nine five-fors in these 19 innings, which is the highest for spinners in innings when they have opened the bowling.

These overall stats, though, don't necessarily mean a spinner took wickets with the new ball; the wickets tally includes the entire innings when the spinner opened the bowling, which means he could have bowled a couple of overs with the new ball, and then returned later to take his wickets with an older ball. With Ashwin, though, that isn't the case: in the first 20 overs of an innings he has taken 41 wickets, at 17.95. Since the beginning of 2002, that's the most wickets by any spinner in the first 20 overs of an innings in Tests, two more than Murali, and five more than Rangana Herath and Graeme Swann. In the first ten overs of an innings, he has 20 wickets at 15.40, again the best among spinners - Herath is next with 15 wickets, at 22.26.

Spinners with most wkts in first 20 overs - Tests since Jan 2002
Bowler Wickets Ave SR
 R Ashwin  41  17.95  42.27
 Muttiah Muralitharan  39  27.94  58.64
 Rangana Herath  36  27.22  63.39
 Graeme Swann  36  24.8  48.42
 Harbhajan Singh  35  37.48  83.69
 Shane Warne  25  25.08  52.88

The series winner
In just 11 Test series that he has played (excluding one-off Tests), Ashwin has won five Man-of-the-Series awards, which is the most by any Indian player. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag won five such awards too, but over much longer careers. In the history of Test cricket, only ten players have won more Man-of-the-Series awards.

Most Man-of-the-Series awards for India in Tests
Player Mat Match Awards Series awards
 R Ashwin  32  4  5
 Virender Sehwag  103  8  5
 Sachin Tendulkar  200  14  5
 Rahul Dravid  163  11  4
 Harbhajan Singh  103  6  4
 Kapil Dev  131  8  4
 Anil Kumble  132  10  4

With so much going his way in 2015, you'd expect Ashwin to continue that form in 2016 as well. If he is among the wickets in Tests next year, it will be the first time Ashwin would have had two successive great years in Tests. So far, he has been outstanding in the odd-numbered years, but quite ordinary in the even-numbered ones. That's in large parts due to the schedule, though Ashwin did have a poor home series against England in 2012, averaging 52.64 in four Tests.

In 2016, though, India have a Test in Zimbabwe and four in the West Indies lined up, before hosting New Zealand (three Tests), England (five Tests) and Australia (four Tests) over a busy 2016-17 home season. That looks like an itinerary which will give Ashwin every chance to put an end to his even-year jinx.

Ashwin's Test stats, in odd- and even-numbered years
Years Tests Wickets Average SR 5WI
 2011, 2013 and 2015  20  129  20.43  44.32  13
 2012 and 2014  12  47  39.04  74.59  3

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Faraz on December 14, 2015, 22:56 GMT

    keep preparing dust bowls and Ashwin will break Murli's record in 100 tests inside India.... Waqar's record is amazing as pitches in Asia don't favor pace.

    India should prepare pitches that will make them competitive not kings at their backyard only.

  •   Larry Larkin on December 14, 2015, 1:17 GMT

    People commenting on Ashwin's numbers outside Asia should take into account that most of his small number of Tests there have been in Australia. Murali, if I recall correctly, averaged 75 in Australia, Swann got belted into retirement in Australia. Australia is not a good place to produce good numbers for finger spinners, which is why Nathan Lyon is such an exception in Australian cricket. That said, I think Jadeja could be quite successful in Australia as he seems to get more bounce, which is what you need here, than most other finger spinners.

  • greig on December 13, 2015, 9:23 GMT

    Yes, yes. Lets have an article outlining Ashwins greatness on pre-requested pitches in India. The same pitches that a bowler like Dean Elgar with a bowling average of 50 almost got a 5-for.

  •   Jarrod Carmichael on December 13, 2015, 8:19 GMT

    Funny how many people say "real great fast bowlers don't have to prove themselves in asia". That's absolute lies. True great quicks like Hadlee (21 av in asia), McGrath (23 av in asia), Steyn (22.6 av in asia) and Pollock (23.11av in asia) have proved that, it's why they are considered greats.

    The benchmark of any great player is how well they play in foreign conditions, regardless of nationality. It's another reason why Sachin was so good and so respected world wide, he scored everywhere and averaged over 50 away. That's world class, that's why he's considered by most people the most complete batsman of the last generation.

    One expects some home/away advantage but 20.47 to 56.58? If seen more spin explaining this than i've ever seen off the pitch ;)

  • Amir on December 13, 2015, 3:46 GMT

    @KANWAR11 - Bowlers like Imran, Waqar and Wasim have proven time and again that surfaces don't matter for quality fast bowlers. The way Imran destroyed India's solid batting lineup in the early 80s with sheer pace and swing, the way Waqar has bowled on Asian wickets is a testament of that. So, Pakistani and WI fast bowlers have performed all over the world regardless of the quality of pitches.

  • kanwar on December 13, 2015, 3:02 GMT

    It's funny how some particular fans will always try to belittle Indian player's achievements. It's not a new thing that most of the comments here are filled with negativity. Why is it that indian players are only good if they play well in Australia, SA, NZ or England because I don't see these fans asking the fast bowlers from above mentioned countries to prove in Indian conditions, as they do not assist swing. Matter of fact, every time Steyn comes to India, very conveniently he gets injured. FYI Steyn is one of my favorite bowler.

  •   Rekha Pyaraka on December 13, 2015, 2:09 GMT

    the stats look and make Ashwin comparable to thoSe greats? but is that the reality? I tend to go along the lines of Supporttestcricket's comments. Most of recent successes of the indian spinners including Ashwin were on dustbowls against players who dont know how to hold the bat properly. As opposed compare those pe4rformances of Warne agains the mighty indians,paks or lankan all tim greats, WAQUAR IN A VERY DIFFCULT TERRAIN FOR FAST BOWLERS....

  •   Hussain Kurawadwala on December 13, 2015, 0:35 GMT

    This stat comparison is pretty comprehensive. For all those saying dead wickets and his abroad figures are bad they need to understand that since playing his last match abroad Ashwin has improved his control a lot. Surely his numbers will be better. Also the guy has taken a bucket load of wickets I am sure all of us combined could not get as many wickets as him. So please stop criticizing and except he is one of the best spinners going around currently along with Lyon Yasir Herath

  • Ashok on December 13, 2015, 0:29 GMT

    @JONATHAN JOSEPHS: The real reason for Aswin's success is that he has changed his line of attack from leg stump to off stump ( bit like Swann). This gives him greater chance of getting wkts. He has also restricted his variations of different balls to improve his accuracy & length. Murali's action would have made him unplayable on the Nagpur wkt.( if he had played for SA). He always had >15 degree bend at the elbow assisting his spinning capabilities. If Ashwin continues his new found control & line of attack, he will succeed overseas too. Don't forget Ashwin succeeded on good batting wkts. at Bangalore & Delhi too!

  • Saif on December 12, 2015, 23:55 GMT

    @CORRIDOROFCERTAINTY on December 12, 2015, 4:11 GMT: " So if it's 5 in an innings, it'll be 10 in a match" How can be one so sure of that? Going by your criteria his 24 wickets in 9 matches out side Asia means only 48 in 18 and only 96 in 36...is that what you mean? If that is so, it doesn't make him a great bowler. All I was trying to emphasis was that, as Rajesh said, the sample away from Asia is too small to judge Ashwin's future performance there, the sample within Asia (but outside India) is even smaller and Ashwin can't be judged as 'force' in Asia as yet based on those figures, and that's why he has to prove himself in more matches in Asia away from India, until then he is a force only in India where he gets immense help from tailor made wickets. That's not undermining him, that's stating plain facts. If the facts does so then it can't be helped.

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