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R. Ashwin during a T20 International match in Ranchi in 2016. Photo: Hindustan Times
R. Ashwin during a T20 International match in Ranchi in 2016. Photo: Hindustan Times

Ravichandran Ashwin: why the Test best struggles in ODIs

Ravichandran Ashwin, ranked No.2 in the International Cricket Council's Test rankings for bowlers, is at No.30 in the 50-over format

For one of India’s match winners, the gulf between Test cricket and One Day Internationals (ODIs) was never this wide.

Ravichandran Ashwin, ranked No.2 (behind Ravindra Jadeja) in the International Cricket Council’s Test rankings for bowlers, is at No.30 in the 50-over format. After a remarkable home Test season of 13 matches, Ashwin was a poor shadow of himself in the high-profile ICC Champions Trophy held from 3-18 June.

According to some former players, this is not surprising. “Dig his numbers in Test matches played abroad. Don’t get confused by believing this contrast is only in Tests and ODI performance," says former Test off-spinner Rajesh Chauhan.

Ashwin has 275 Test wickets in less than 50 matches—the fastest on a number of milestones. He was the fastest Indian to get 150 Test wickets, the second fastest in Test history to reach 200 Test wickets and the fastest to reach 250 Test wickets. Yet, he has just 67 wickets in 17 matches abroad. A majority of those (43 wickets in eight matches) have come in the last two years against weaker opponents like the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

In ODIs, Ashwin’s bowling average (from 33.30 at home to 45.37 abroad) takes a beating. In the Champions Trophy, he finished with a solitary wicket, with an abysmally poor average of 167. “He looks like a defensive bowler the moment he plays outside India against better teams. It’s the same in Test and ODIs or even T20s," argues Chauhan who is associated with the under-16 coaching at the National Cricket Academy (Central Zone).

“It’s not a secret that there is a certain disparity in his numbers. It does contradict his performance at home and abroad, regardless of the format. More than the revival of his ODI performance, he seriously needs to think about his performance in Test cricket abroad as well," adds former India opener Aakash Chopra.

When Kohli dropped Ashwin for the opening game of the Champions Trophy against Pakistan on 4 June—not unexpectedly—he had some difficulty explaining his decision.

“Yes, we do have disagreements on bowling plans and all those sort of things because he is a very smart guy and he has his own plans in place. But in this case where team selection and all these things come into play, he’s very professional. He understands what the team demands," said Kohli.

Ironically, Ashwin’s rise was largely due to his exploits in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for Chennai Super Kings. He became a good ODI bowler. He played his first Test (November 2011) almost a year and a half after making his ODI debut.

Many observers believe the selectors and captain expected Ashwin to focus more on Test cricket than ODIs, and this affected the off-spinner’s rhythm in the shorter formats. When India won the Champions Trophy in 2013, Ashwin was one of the pivotal figures in English conditions and was among the top 10 (No.8) ODI bowlers in the world.

Of late, he has missed many ODI matches—though he was part of the playing XI in both matches in the ongoing series in the West Indies—as he was being rested by the team management and selectors ahead of more significant Test matches. Between the 2015 World Cup and the 2017 Champions Trophy, Ashwin played just nine ODIs. But between the 2011 World Cup and the 2013 Champions Trophy, he had played more than 30 games.

“The captain and Ashwin need to be on the same page and it should be clear that his main job is to pick wickets, as was the case during the 2015 World Cup in Australia. Even if he goes for some runs, his primary objective should be getting wickets and not restricting runs. He shouldn’t be dropped after a poor game," argues Chopra.

One of the key features of Ashwin’s personality is the attempt to improve his game. Yet there are some weaknesses Ashwin can do little about—he is not as athletic or natural as someone like Ravindra Jadeja with his fielding or batting in ODI cricket (in Tests this not an issue at all), so it’s only his bowling skill that can help him revive his ODI career.

It is quite evident that Ashwin is not an automatic choice for Kohli in ODIs; doubtless, it will also harm Ashwin’s prospects of leading India in the future. Chopra says the real challenge will start from the beginning of 2018, leading up to the 2019 World Cup, when India will play some of their toughest opponents abroad.

“More than technical, I think it’s a mental issue. I was surprised by his line of attack during the final and discussed with fellow experts during the commentary. It didn’t help that he hardly played any cricket after March (the Australia Test series) and wasn’t available for the IPL," says Chopra.

Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.

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