September 17, 1986, Madras (now Chennai), Tamil Nadu
Right hand bat
Right arm offbreak
R Ashwin is a tall offspinner who took the soduku ball, a finger-flicked tennis-ball legbreak, from the streets of Chennai and used it effectively in international cricket on a bigger, harder cricket ball. His inspiration was Ajantha Mendis' carrom ball. Even before Mendis had played for Sri Lanka and bamboozled India's heavyweight Test line-up in one series, this 21-year-old saw him in a game in Chennai and went home convinced it could be done with a cricket ball too. In his first season of first-class cricket back then, Ashwin put his long fingers to tireless work on that variation. Soon after Mendis had became a brief phenomenon, Ashwin unleashed it.
That carrom ball, an arm ball just as good, his control over his offbreaks, and a sharp brain made Ashwin a quintessential limited-overs spinner, but in Test cricket he followed a brief period of struggle, against England in 2012-13, with a return to classical offspin basics and began using the variations sparingly. Ashwin's success was what India desperately needed at a time when Anil Kumble had retired and Harbhajan Singh was on the wane.
Ashwin is one of the rare players who came into the public's reckoning through the IPL and yet was good enough to hold his own in bigger forms of cricket. For his IPL franchise, he opened the bowling, bowled at death, came on when wickets were required, and was the Man of the Series in the 2010 Champions League played in South Africa.
Ashwin's success in T20 cricket earned him a call-up to the national side, ODI firsts and inevitably the Tests in 2011-12. He was a part of the winning squad in the 2011 World Cup, but rarely got a chance ahead of Harbhajan. The senior offspinner, though, soon provided him with more opportunities and Ashwin kept on building a phenomenal body of work. He took nine wickets in his maiden Test, the second-highest by an Indian debutant after Narendra Hirwani's 16, and won the Man-of-the-Match award. It only got better: he registered nine five-fors in his first 16 Tests and was a genuine threat to Erapalli Prasanna's Indian record of the march to 100 wickets in 20 Tests.
An opener with the bat before he took up offspin, Ashwin is more than a handy lower-order batsman: he is correct, has the shots and scored a century in his first Test series.
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