Where does Ravichandran Ashwin stand among the all-time all-round greats?

On Saturday, Ravichandran Ashwin claimed yet another five-wicket haul, the 26th of his Test career, which helped India bowl Sri Lanka out for a paltry total of 183 runs. In doing so, he also surpassed Harbhajan Singh to become the Indian with the second most number of five-wicket hauls in Tests; the first being Anil Kumble with 35 five-fors to his name. It doesn’t end here as the feat also made him the spinner with the most five-fors (12) in Tests while opening the bowling.

However, amongst all the excitement surrounding his superb bowling effort, everyone forgot that he had scored a fifty with the bat on the previous day that made him the fastest player to achieve the double of 2000 runs and 250 wickets in Tests. He did so in a total of 51 Tests and surpassed the likes of the legendary Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Shaun Pollock and Kapil Dev. This was not the first time that he had achieved such a feat. He had equalled Botham’s record for the fastest double of 1000 runs and 150 wickets in 29 Tests.

There is no doubt that Ashwin is an out-and-out bowler. However, his batting is something that can’t be ignored. His batting style is as impressive and attractive as his batting statistics are in Test cricket. Statistics of 2004 runs in 51 Tests at an average of 32.85 that also include four centuries and 10 fifties is no child’s play for a player who has batted mostly at No 7 and No 8 throughout his career.

And if you add to that the mammoth tally of 284 wickets, his overall numbers certainly make a good read for him to be considered as a pure all-rounder. He is even placed as the top all-rounder in Tests in the ICC rankings. But, is he on par as an all-rounder with the likes of Hadlee, Botham, Imran and others? A statistical analysis will eventually reveal the answer.

One common thing between the aforementioned all-rounders is that they all have been bowling beasts in home conditions. All of Botham, Hadlee, Imran, Pollock and Dev boasted impressive bowling averages of 27.54, 22.96, 19.20, 21.08 and 26.49 in home Tests respectively. Similarly, Ashwin has claimed a total of 208 wickets in 32 home Tests so far at a highly impressive average of 22.64, which is on par with the legends.

Moreover, all the legends averaged around 30 with the bat in home conditions. Imran had the best numbers in the lot with an average of 45.29 in 38 matches. However, their averages take a huge dip in away conditions. Imran’s average reduces to 33.83 whereas Dev’s reduces to 26.21 from 36.97. Hadlee’s average also suffers a fair dip from 29.43 to 25.35. Only Botham’s remained fairly consistent with only 3.05 difference between home and away averages. And Pollock had an unusually higher away average (36.45) than home average (29.12). However, Ashwin’s batting numbers in home and away conditions have been the most consistent of the lot. His home and away batting average stands at 33.48 and 32.00 respectively and only differs by a 1.48 margin.

Players Home Batting Average Away Batting Average
Ian Botham 34.92 31.87
Richard Hadlee 29.43 25.35
Imran Khan 45.29 33.83
Kapil Dev 36.97 26.21
Shaun Pollock 29.12 36.45
Ravichandran Ashwin 33.48 32

So, it seems that Ashwin equals the all-time greats when it comes to bowling in home conditions and edges them out in terms of batting consistency in both home and away conditions. There hardly seems to be any flaw in his records when only those mentioned statistics above are considered. But, is there any other area where he struggles to find his peak form? His away bowling record will suggest so.

Most of these all-time greats were mainly bowlers who excelled as batsmen as well. The same is the case with Ashwin. However, all of them kept their bowling consistency intact irrespective of the conditions. Their home and away bowling averages only differ slightly. However, we have seen Ashwin being rendered harmless on away tracks on numerous occasions.

Ashwin has picked up only 76 wickets in 19 away Test matches at an average of 33.21 as compared to his 208 wickets in 32 home Test matches at 22.64. So, there is a stark contrast between his home and away numbers which is not the case with the legendary all-rounders who were equally effective with the ball in all conditions.

Players Home Bowling Average Away Bowling Average
Ian Botham 27.54 29.63
Richard Hadlee 22.96 21.72
Imran Khan 19.2 25.76
Kapil Dev 26.49 32.85
Shaun Pollock 21.08 25.68
Ravichandran Ashwin 22.64 33.21

Ashwin might be the No 1 all-rounder in Tests at the moment. However, these statistics prove that it is solely because of the bulk amount of matches he has played in home conditions. An increase in the number of away matches in the future might result in his decline as a bowler if he does not work on his bowling in overseas conditions. Having such a stark difference in his main attribute is certainly not something that can be compared with the former greats of the game.

Moreover, the Tamil Nadu all-rounder may never have a great all-round career in limited-overs cricket simply because of his traditional and classical approach to batting. The Indian limited-overs batting unit is so strong that Ashwin doesn’t even get a chance to bat before No 9. This limits his opportunities to score runs. And when it comes to bowling, he has lost a fair amount of firepower in his bowling arsenal during the last couple of years. He has been in and out of the limited-overs side and his place doesn’t look secure with only his bowling prowess.

Players ODIs Played Runs Scored Wickets Bat Average Ball Average
Ian Botham 116 2113 145 23.21 28.54
Richard Hadlee 115 1751 158 21.61 21.56
Imran Khan 175 3709 182 33.41 26.61
Kapil Dev 225 3783 253 23.79 27.45
Shaun Pollock 303 3519 393 26.45 24.5
Ravichandran Ashwin 111 675 150 16.07 32.91

One thing that the former greats enjoyed was prosperous careers in both formats of the game. However, Ashwin may never have the same luxury. His batting numbers in ODIs seem to be nowhere close to that of the legendary all-rounders. His bowling numbers are also not that impressive as well. The table above shows how both Ashwin’s ODI batting and bowling numbers are far behind the other players.

Ashwin will certainly remain at the top of world cricket as long as India’s rigorous home Test season goes on. However, it remains to be seen if he would be able to improve his record in overseas conditions as a bowler. And his ODI performances with both the bat and the ball will be under the scanner in the coming time ahead. For now, it can be said that he is not yet in the same league of the all-time great all-rounders in world cricket. However, he can certainly find himself a place in that league if he improves his overseas bowling and overall ODI record.

(This article was first published on Firstpost on August 6, 2017)


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