Incredible Ravichandran Ashwin has achieved something, which no other bowler could achieve in 140 years of Test Cricket history. In a span of just little over five years and in 45 Test matches, Ashwin reached the milestone of 250 Test wickets. His wicket taking rate is more than 5.5 wickets per Test, which is truly astonishing.
It is widely believed that any Test batsman who could maintain a career inning’s average of forty plus has been a good achiever. Those who could manage to maintain it above fifty are in the league of greats or say may be among greatest ever. To give you an idea what a fifty plus inning’s average in Test match means, consider this – Tendulkar, Ponting, Gavaskar, Dravid ended with an average of fifty plus but likes of Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Vengsarkar couldn’t. Alastair Cook, who is considered to be the most worthy contender to break all Test records of Sachin Tendulkar, has a Test batting average much below fifty.
For a bowler, maintaining a Test average of five wickets per Test is much much bigger accomplishment then having a Test innings batting average of fifty. So imagine the grandeur of having a rate of more than 5.5 wickets a Test. It is huge, really huge.
Any Test bowler with an average of around five wickets per Test is all time inarguable greats of game. They are exempted from the arguments like what kind of bowlers were they; what kind of tracks they bowled upon, etc. etc., as wickets/Test outweighs all other criteria (some may like to have Muralitharan as an exception, although I don’t).
There is history behind my benchmark of five wickets per Test. This is one feat, which has really been rare, very rare.
For our generation, Dennis Lillee was the first bowling superstar, or say first big achiever. Lillee finished his career during first half of eighties as highest wicket taker in Test matches with 355 wickets in 70 Tests; an average of above five per Test. Then the moot question is that what about the great West Indian pace attack of seventies-eighties? Were they not there? They were not. Marshall, Holding, Andy Roberts, Joel Garner – all of them had an average, which was well below five wickets per match.
Richard Hadlee finished his career in late eighties with 431 wickets in 86 Test matches; again an average of five wickets per Test.
So Lille and Hadlee raised the bar by notches in terms of wickets per match. A feat no pace bowler could ever achieve. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, McGrath – they all ended up with an average well below five wickets per Test match.
Dale Steyn is almost there with 417 wickets in 85 Test Matches, an average of 4.9 wickets per Test. It shows that what potent bowler Steyn has been over all those years.
Muralitharan was exceptionally good with 800 wickets in 133 Test – a rate of six wickets per Test match. Great Shane Warne ended with 708 Test wickets with Test rate of 4.88 wickets per Test.
In Indian bowlers, Anil Kumble claimed 619 wickets with a rate of 4.7 wickets per Test.
This discussion speaks about the magnificence of Ashwin’s achievement. Among all the bowlers with more than 250 wickets in the history of Test Cricket, Ashwin’s wicket/Test ratio is second to Muralitharan only. He already has 24 five-wickets and 7 ten-wickets hauls under his belt in just 45 Test matches. Compare this with 35 & 8 of Kumble in 132 Tests (or go little further and compare with KapilDev’s 23 & 2 in 131 Test matches).
Ashwin had little late debut in Test Cricket at the age of 25 but he still has at least good 6-7 years of Cricket left in him and he can easily hang his boot with more than 500 Test wickets.
But challenges are there. Most of his 45 Test matches were played at home and his wicket/Test outside India has been relatively meager at four wickets per Test. It would be difficult for Ashwin to maintain his current rate during a long period, particularly when India will play overseas.
Nonetheless, Ashwin has been one of the most sensational Cricketers in recent times and he is inching towards greatness, though little far as on now. His bowling style, his potency as a bowler is a different discussion altogether but let’s all hail Ashwin right now for all those sheer numbers, he possesses.
True that numbers don’t always speak truth but they don’t always tell lie as well. And of course at the end of the day; it is only numbers, which matter.