Ashutosh Aman flights his way from the Air Force to the Ranji Trophy record books

With 68 wickets at the ridiculous average of 8.53, the Bihar left-arm spinner has gone past Bishan Singh Bedi's 44-year-old mark of 64 wickets in a season

Sreshth Shah
Sreshth Shah
When the 32-year-old Ashutosh Aman decided to switch from Services to Bihar at the start of the 2018-19 domestic season, he had little idea that he'd end up in the record books by the end of it. Against Manipur this week, he went past fellow left-arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi's tally of most Ranji Trophy wickets in a single season, when he trapped Manipur's Sagatpam Singh lbw for his 65th wicket.
In 1974-75, Bedi took his 64 wickets at the ludicrous average of 8.53. Aman's numbers this season are even more extraordinary - after day three of Bihar's match against Manipur in Patna, he has 68 wickets at an average of 6.48.
An employee of the Indian Air Force, Aman says he didn't even know of the record in sight up until a week or so ago, but was delighted to have gone past the "legendary" Bedi.
"When I had around 50 wickets, that's when my team-mates told me that there's a record that's there to be broken," Aman tells ESPNcricinfo. "That's when I pushed myself. I told myself that since I've come so close, then if I put some extra effort, then I could perhaps break the record."
Hailing from Bihar's Gaya, Aman started playing cricket as a teenager for his district. And within three years, he had made his way to Delhi in a bid to further his cricketing ambitions. He joined the Indian Air Force's accounts department under their sports-quota scheme, and began playing for Services.
"I used to earlier play in Gaya itself, from the age of 14, but there was no Ranji Trophy in Bihar back then, so at 17 I joined the Air Force," Aman says. "After that, whatever cricket I've played and learnt is under the Air Force's aegis. But the competition was high in Services, so I wasn't getting the opportunity to play Ranji cricket there. My dream was to play days (first-class) cricket, and that's why I made the switch.
"I have a job at the Air Force, so there I wasn't getting much opportunities with Services, and therefore I came to Bihar since I live in Gaya anyway. I did well in the districts, so then they called me for the one-dayers. I had the best economy in Vijay Hazare Trophy (2.10 in eight games) so then they asked me to play Ranji Trophy. Then I did a camp with Subroto Banerjee, our coach. He liked me, so together with our captain Pragyan Ojha - who is another left-arm spinner like me - they chose me."
Aman mentions Ojha's influence often, and says the former India spinner has helped him become a more tactically aware bowler.
"Pragyan Ojha bhaiya is a simple and reachable man," Aman says. "He's an India player, such a big name, so we remained slightly shy. But he's a professional, talks to everyone daily, and now we've come together very well. He said, "ball mein jaan aur bounce hona chahiye (your deliveries should have some life and bounce in them)," and after that my focus has been on that. So he said "even if the ball isn't turning, your bounce should hurry the batsmen up."
"I prefer varying my pace because I'm not a big turner of the ball. My arm ball comes inwards, so I flight and vary my pace by seeding doubt in the batsman. My focus has always remained on bowling accurate deliveries."
Aman's record-breaking feats have come in the Ranji Trophy's Plate Division, which includes seven first-time teams. Aman says he can only bowl at the opponents he comes up against, but admits that the quality of opposition may not be as good as it might be in the top tier.
"Sometimes there's a season written in a person's forehead, when whatever they do turns out to be positive. I hope it continues this way for me."
Ashutosh Aman
"I've played Elite cricket (one-dayers for Services) too, and that's definitely tougher than Plate Division," he says. "In Elite cricket, we need to work harder to take wickets there. Honestly, there's some truth to the difference in levels between Elite and Plate. In Elite cricket, batsmen are of a higher caliber, so you need to adjust and bowl accordingly. Fitness levels and batting techniques are also higher, so there's definitely a difference. But what to do? The decision to group teams this way wasn't my choice."
Despite being thrust so suddenly into the limelight, Aman isn't looking too far ahead. He calls himself "a simple man'" who just wants to continue enjoying the sport. But he hopes he can get more white-ball opportunities, including a shot at the IPL.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo