It’s a matter of surprise that India are wining Tests vs a top-notch English team despite dropping four catches per test, three top players sitting out injured per game, two batsmen failing per innings and at least one DRS review being immaturely wasted per day. Aside captain Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, it comes down to India having one main weapon who goes by the name of Ravichandran Ashwin.
The quiet unassuming 30-year-old from Chennai has now career haul of seven man of the series awards. The next best player, since Ashwin made his debut, has only four. Each of those awards or his 22 five wicket hauls or his promotion to number six in batting order, have all propelled India into becoming the number one Test ranked team. Is Ashwin the best Test cricketer of 2016?
Best cricketer of 2016
At the time of writing, on conclusion of the Mohali Test, Ashwin has now amassed 545 runs and taken 59 wickets in calendar year 2016 – Test matches ranging from West Indies to India. Only the seventh player in history of cricket to achieve this 500 runs-50 wickets double in a calendar year. Four man of the series awards that he was awarded, has come in the last 12 months.
His closest challengers to the ‘best Test cricketer of 2016′ would be, hold your breath, five Englishmen! Johnny Bairstow has 1355 Test runs, Joe Root has 1285 runs, Moeen Ali has 838 runs and 38 wickets, Chris Woakes has 482 runs and 40 wickets and Ben Stokes has 826 runs and 32 wickets, in 2016. If, for a moment you assume taking a Test wicket is worth scoring 25 runs, or lets take it as 20 runs (since majority of these players have played in subcontinent, relatively lower scoring, wickets), then Stokes with 826+32*20=1466 runs and Ali with 838+38*20=1598 runs far out score Bairstow and Root in nett value. On those same parameters, Ashwin with 545+59*20= 1725 runs, is almost 8% above his next best competitor (Moeen Ali).
The entire argument is off course killed when you factor that Bairstow, Root and Ali achieved these numbers over 15 Tests, Woakes over 11 Tests, whereas Stokes’ and Ashwin’s numbers of 2016 are from just 10 Tests, so far..
Cometh the hour, Cometh the man
In the ongoing Mohali Test, Ashwin came in to bat at 156/5 after England had scored 283 first innings runs. It was a doldrums situation which soon became 204/6. England trailing the series 0-1 were going in for the kill. But, by the time Ashwin departed, the score read 301/7 and initiative wrested back with India. That in short makes Ashwin, Team India’s outright MVP.
In the first Test vs West Indies at Antigua, Ashwin came to bat at 236/4 and departed at 526/7. In the third Test, of the same series, at Gros Islet, he came into bat at a precarious 87/4 and left at 353/9. He was India’s fourth highest scorer in that series in the Caribbean and in the ongoing series vs England, he is currently India’s third highest scorer.
In the series vs New Zealand, he took 27 wickets, when rest of India’s bowling attack combined took 30 wickets! Needless to stay he was leading wicket taker at West Indies and is also now in the ongoing series. When wickets are needed, Virat looks at one person. When the team’s batting is wobbling Virat has a solid and assured backup in Ashwin.
Striking hard and economically
One of the best things Indian team management has started doing is resting Ashwin for meaningless bilateral one day series. If Ashwin can maintain his Test bowling strike rate for five more years he will be on course for competing for best Test bowler ever tag. His 235 wickets off 42 Tests, at strike rate of 50.4 and economy rate of 2.91, is already knocking on some of the great career strike rates and economy rates. Waqar Younis has 373 wickets off 87 Tests with strike rate of 43.4 and economy of 3.2. Dale Steyn has 417 wickets off 85 Tests with strike rate of 41.5 and economy rate of 3.2, amongst players who have taken above 350 wickets and above Ashwin in the strike rate table. That’s a list dominated by pace bowlers, hardly a spinner to spot, forget spinning all-rounders.
In the last 13 months, India now are on a 14 Tests unbeaten run, with home series wins over South Africa 3-0, New Zealand 3-0, England (ongoing) 2-0 and an away series win over West Indies 2-0. When I posted this thought (Is Ashwin being the best Test cricketer of 2016?) on social media I was countered that with no performances to show in Australia and South Africa in 2016, he cannot be the best of 2016. I countered back saying, India beat the same West Indies, England and New Zealand teams who have beaten current world no. 2 ranked Pakistan in recent months and England has had series victory at South Africa earlier this year. Not only that, why does Australia or South Africa only have to be a benchmark for being best of the year? I then asked ‘Name me one player who has done better than Ashwin in 2016 and has performed in India?’. There has been no answers since. Cause there are none.
All the best Ashwin, who undoubtedly is the best Test cricketer around. Atleast in 2016.
(This post was first published in Sportskeeda.com)