From the time he made an impact for Tamil Nadu and the Indian Premier League, Ravichandran Ashwinâ€™s strength of mind had stood out. Still, questions that followed his struggle on the 2014 England tour and subsequent benching at the start of last yearâ€™s Australia Test series would have broken a lesser player.
The 29-year-old off-spinner can look back at 2015 with pride. His resilience, the questions he kept asking himself and the experts in the team while polishing his craft have all helped him emerge a transformed wicket-taker.
The turnaround has come at a critical time for India. Ashwin had great rapport with MS Dhoni and when the Test reins were handed to Virat Kohli in Australia, that trust could have been tested. However, finishing 2015 as the top-ranked ICC Test bowler — he is also the top all-rounder — is a tribute to Ashwinâ€™s rise and his becoming integral to Kohliâ€™s drive.
Staying on top
In the impressive back-to-back series wins, in Sri Lanka and against South Africa, Ashwin was Kohliâ€™s go-to man. And he responded to claim both Man-of-the-Series awards, ending South Africa fast bowler Dale Steynâ€™s run as the top-ranked bowler.
Bishan Singh Bedi, the only Indian bowler to have topped the ICC rankings, was elated. â€œI did not even know there were rankings during my time. But I am happy Ashwin is on top of the rankings. It is a proud moment for Indian cricket,â€ Bedi said. â€œI was speaking to Erapalli Prasanna this morning of how there are so few bowlers with nice, clean action. Right now, there are just a couple who are excelling with that kind of action. One of them is Ashwin.
â€œHe has bowled intelligently through the year. He complemented the team perfectly and matured as a bowler this year,â€ Bedi added.
However, talk of tailored pitches in the South Africa series took some sheen off his achievements. Former India opener WV Raman, who coached Tamil Nadu when Ashwin was starting out, said the spinner has mastered bowling on turning tracks, where not everyone necessarily prospers.
â€œWhen a batsman scores big on a batting track no one criticises him. Then why poke holes in Ashwinâ€™s achievements?â€ Raman asked. â€œBowling on turning tracks is an art. There is scope for all bowlers to spray the ball all over. However, Ashwin has mastered this aspect. Next year, India play a majority of Tests at home and I am sure he will once again come into his own.â€
Bedi though feels Ashwin has a long way to go before being bracketed with Indiaâ€™s great bowlers. â€œTo bridge that gap, he has to deliver overseas.â€