Ashwin - a meteor who won't disappear overnight

Source : SIFY
By : Partab Ramchand
Last Updated: Tue, Sep 04, 2012 09:25 hrs
Kohli, Dhoni carry India to victory <br><br><br>

It would be tempting to shrug off India's clean sweep in their two-match Test series against New Zealand as inconsequential. After all, it was notched up a team that stands at No 5 in the ICC Test rankings as compared to New Zealand's No 8 and it was achieved at home where India has an awesome record.

Also despite the presence of a few well-known names this was perhaps the weakest New Zealand team to visit India ever since contests between the two sides commenced in 1955.

In the same breath it must also be stated that the Indian team is going through a transitional phase following the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman. And on the eve of the series while an Indian win was taken for granted, it was not always sure whether it would be a clean sweep. 

New Zealand have almost always provided tough opposition for even when they have not had outstanding players they have been a fighting unit. And while it was pointed out on the eve of the contest that New Zealand had won only two out of 29 Tests played in India, the fact that as many as 16 had been drawn went largely unnoticed. 

India have generally registered narrow series victories and under the circumstances a clean sweep can be termed as an encouraging result and one that should stand the Indians in very good stead for the tougher battles ahead. It must not be forgotten that both victories were notched up with a day to spare and one was by an innings and plenty. Also a  target of 261 is never easy and it constituted the fifth best effort by an Indian team in history. 

That said it must be admitted that there plus and minus points from the Indian viewpoint and it was not all smooth sailing. Pride of place among the plus points must go to Ravichandran Ashwin. He really has come a long way since his Test debut about a year ago. Not only has he quickly established himself as the No 1 spin bowler in the team he is in it for the long haul. He is not a meteor who is going to disappear overnight. He was the man of the series on his debut series against the West Indies and now for good measure has bagged the same award again. 

As it stands he is sure to break Anil Kumble's record of the fastest 50 wickets in Test cricket for an Indian. Kumble reached the mark in his 10th match while Ashwin after eight Tests has 49 wickets. Add his valuable batting down the order and you get a picture of the all rounder that Indian cricket has been yearning for over an extended period. 

Among the other bowlers, Pragyan Ojha did his cause no harm by being among the wickets to add to his chief quality of being a steady bowler. The fact that he has struck up a successful combination with Ashwin augurs well for the team at a time when it was feared that Indian cricket's traditional strength, spin bowling, was going through testing times. 

Zaheer Khan might be in the evening of his career but the Indian pace spearhead who turns 34 next month still has some fire left in him. Umesh Yadav frequently topped the 140 kmph mark but in his eagerness to bowl fast his line and length suffered and one hopes he is able to find out an acceptable solution wherein he is able to trouble batsmen not just with his pace. 

The batting had holes but the most encouraging aspect was that the two young guns Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara were among the runs. The former of course has already established himself in the Test team and now hopefully has found a permanent slot at No 5. But the more cheerful note was struck by Pujara. He always looked to be the best bet for the No 3 position vacated by Dravid's retirement and he showed that he does have the class and skill, the technique and temperament to man the pivotal slot. 

Suresh Raina blew the chance to make the No 6 slot his own. One half success and two failures - particularly the horrendous shot in the second innings at Bangalore - could not have done much good for his claims and with a number of contenders waiting in the wings he may find himself out of the reckoning again. 

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir performed well below expectations and their continuous failures is a matter of concern. They are the country's best opening pair since the best days of Gavaskar and Chauhan more than 30 years ago but one should be able to keep his place on merit and not just on reputation. The time may not be far off when Ajinkya Rahane who has a first class average of almost 64 could be opening the innings in a Test match. 

And finally, we come to the most vexing problem of all. Sachin Tendulkar's detractors have been growing more vociferous over the last year given his failures in England and Australia and particularly after his 100th hundred in the Asia Cup which is largely seen as detrimental to India's chances of winning the tournament (incidentally India lost that match to Bangladesh). 

His non-show against New Zealand has already drawn angry comments - naturally about why he does not retire. To be candid it is not just the unacceptable figures - 63 runs at an average of 21 - for there has been a palpable fall in his stats in the last couple of years. His being bowled three times in a row and by bowlers who do not boast of big deeds in international cricket has raised the proverbial hornet's nest. Could we have just witnessed at least the beginning of the end even if it is not yet time for the curtain call? 

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