In all the excitement surrounding Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell Test appearance, a couple of significant achievements by Indian players went largely unnoticed. Certainly they would have garnered much more attention in any other match.
Rohit Sharma’s second hundred in as many Test innings since his debut at Kolkata and Pragyan Ojha’s maiden ten-wicket haul were notable events. Rohit’s grand arrival coincided with Tendulkar’s grand farewell and it was very much like passing the torch. Ojha for some time now in the shadow of Ravindra Jadeja thanks to the latter’s superior batting ability proved that he is very much the better bowler.
But for me the most significant achievement notched up during the Mumbai Test was Ravichandran Ashwin taking his 100th wicket in only his 18th Test. That he surpassed a 44-year-old record standing in the name of Erapalli Prasanna underscores the greatness of the feat.
Prasanna took his 100th wicket in his 20th Test against Australia at New Delhi on November 30 1969. Before him Subash Gupte had achieved the landmark in his 22nd match. Since Prasanna the two fastest Indians to 100 wickets have been BS Chandrasekhar (22) and Anil Kumble (21).
Under the circumstances, it is easy to see why Ashwin’s record is so special. What’s more. it is pretty close to the world record held by George Lohmann who reached the mark in only his 16th Test. After him there are three great bowlers – SF Barnes, Charlie Turner and Clarrie Grimmett – who all took their 100th in their 17th match. So Ashwin is truly in an elite group.
What makes Ashwin’s feat a stand out show is the fact that the four bowlers were around when cricket was played on uncovered wickets. Lohmann the great England medium pace bowler figured in 18 Tests between 1886 and 1896 and took 112 wickets at 10.75 apiece.
After well over a century he remains the bowler with the best strike rate in Test history – 34 balls per dismissal. The strike rate – over six wickets a Test - and his average are all quite the mind boggling and eye rubbing variety but while he undoubtedly remains a great bowler, as I said, much of his success was due to the helpful surfaces.
Much the same can be said about the other three bowlers. "Turner the Terror" as he was known was an Australian fast medium bowler who played 17 Tests between 1887 and 1895. His figures are also quite remarkable for he finished with 101 wickets at 16.53 apiece at virtually six wickets per Test.
Sydney Francis Barnes known as the Bradman of bowlers was an England medium pace bowler who played 27 Tests between 1901 and 1914 and finished with the then Test record haul of 189 wickets at 16.43 apiece. His average too is quite astonishing as is the fact that he took exactly seven wickets a Test. He is a little behind Lohmann in strike rate – 41.65 balls per dismissal.
Grimmett, Australia’s legendary leg spinner, was the bowler who surpassed Barnes’ haul and became the first to take 200 wickets in Tests. He played 37 Tests between 1925 and 1936, finishing with 216 wickets at 24.21 apiece and very nearly six wickets per Test. He took his 200th wicket in his penultimate game and his tally of scalps remained the record till England’s Alec Bedser surpassed it in 1953.
When talking about Lohmann and Turner, one should remember that we are discussing about events that took place in the late 19th century. With Barnes it is about a hundred years ago. And with Grimmett it is almost 80 years ago.
Conditions, as I said, were more favourable to bowlers in those days and to put Ashwin’s record in proper perspective, it is worth recalling that many outstanding performers – fast bowlers, medium pacers or spinners – have not been able to match his feat.
Of course in the much more batting friendly conditions prevalent in the game these days, there is no way Ashwin can match the strike rate or average of those four outstanding bowlers but his figures are still highly respectable – 56.3 (strike rate) and 27.47 (average). There is also the small matter of Ashwin having notched up two Test hundreds while none of the illustrious quartet had even one between them.
At the moment Ashwin’s haul is 104 wickets. At 27 he has time on his hands not only to set up more bowling records but also fresh marks as an all rounder. With 770 runs under his belt at an average of 40.5 with two hundreds and three half centuries, he needs another 230 runs in three Tests to equal Ian Botham’s record of the fastest double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in Test cricket which the great England all rounder completed in his 21st Test.
Yes, in just two short years Ashwin has not just worked hard to become the leading spin bowler in the land he has already become the genuine all rounder that Indian cricket has wanted for so long. It now remains to be seen if he can break Botham’s record. He certainly is in line to surpass the Indian record of Vinoo Mankad who completed the double in his 23rd Test. Kapil Dev incidentally did so in his 25th Test.