Words pour out in a rush when off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin speaks. The ball, however, when it is released from his fingers, is in no such rush. His preparation, followed by control, experience, change in angles and pace as well as the pressure he builds up on an opposition batsman have seen Ashwin become Virat Kohli’s bowling spearhead time and again.
The tall off-spinner from Chennai bowled his way into record books after he trapped New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson leg before in the second innings of the Kanpur Test on Sunday to become the second fastest bowler in Test cricket to get 200 wickets.
Ashwin took 37 Tests to bag his 200th wicket and is just one match behind Australia's leading spinner Clarrie Grimmett who did it in 36 Tests in February 1936. New Zealand-born Grimmett was 33-year-old when he made his Test debut in 1925 and was 44 when he played his final Test in 1936. Before Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh was the fastest Indian bowler to take 200 wickets. Harbhajan crossed this milestone from 46 Tests.
Speaking about his achievement after the fourth day of the match which India looks well placed to win, Ashwin said his journey as a bowler was all about constantly evolving as a player and that he was not looking to rest on his laurels at all. “I’m just happy trying to compete with myself. When I say that, it might sound clichéd to you. But I’ve always repeated that I constantly compete with myself. You go out, try and beat records, or try to catch up with records. It’s always going to teach you a lesson. That’s something the Test cricket had taught me pretty early in my career – that how quickly it can set you back a couple of years.”
It was tough for Ashwin to sit out of the playing X1 in some of the matches on India’s away tours during 2014-15. He featured in just three of the nine matches India played in 2014 as he struggled to find himself amongst wicket-takers in conditions different from those in the sub continent. Of the 200 wickets he bagged in total, 133 were from the 20 Tests he played at home and the remaining from 17 Tests played abroad. “I lost 12 to 18 months of Test cricket, and that’s good enough to teach me all the lessons. It’s important to try and compete with myself and get better every day,” said Ashwin.
Ashwin has always been a trier—a player who goes into obsessive details of bowling like a scientist looking for new inventions. He makes efforts to ensure that his overseas record is constantly improving. The most important lesson he learnt was to look to continuously improve his skill levels. “That phase taught me a lot, and more so, it emphasised that I should be working on my skill. Ever since then, my skill has definitely been talked about. I have a corn on my finger and I haven't bowled a lot in the last 25 days. I'm not very happy with the way it has come out so far. I just hope that I can do better in the series.”
He rated Kane Wiliamson’s wicket in the first innings in Kanpur as his best and ranked AB Deviliers' in Nagpur and Kumar Sangakarra's in Sri Lanka last year amongst his most cherished wickets.
Untill before the Kanpur Test, Ashwin was 7 wickets short of the landmark with 2.91 economy rate, 18 five-wicket hauls and four ten-wicket hauls. He could have achieved the record in the last Test match India played at Port of Spain, but the match was washed out by the rain. He has no regrets about that, he just looks to cherish the record the way it has come.
“Maybe Clarrie Grimmett was a nicer man than I am! I think it just had to be that way. It’s fine, honestly. There are a lot of positives to look at and lots of good memories that I’ve created over the last five-six years of international cricket. To look back and feel sore about it is not the right way to go about my career. So I’m just happy where I am right now.”
With India’s big Test season just taking off, Ashwin is expected to be in the forefront of them adding to his burgeoning reputation as India’s most lethal bowler. When asked what his next target will be, given the enticing prospect of thriving in familiar conditions, he said, “The next target is just winning the series! First we’ll try to win the Test match tomorrow. (Take it) one day at a time. Everybody keeps talking about 13 Test matches in the season for me, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s one day at a time,” said Ashwin.