Anyone who spent the winter lockdown tracking England’s progressive stagger around India will remember the off‑spinner Ravichandran Ashwin wiping out batting lineups with the ease of a lazy swipe of the monopoly board.
A world-class bowler, the fastest to 300 Test wickets, he has, for tactical reasons, been carrying the drinks around England so far this summer. Following India’s thrashing by an innings at Headingley, aunque, the clamour has been growing for him to play in the fourth Test starting on Thursday in south London. It wouldn’t be his first foray to the Oval this year. He cut quite a dash in his short spell at Surrey in July, when he was signed to replace the injured New Zealand fast bowler Kyle Jamieson when Surrey still had a shot of making Division One and winning the title.
Desafortunadamente, by the time the ink had dried on the page, Surrey were out of the running, but Ashwin still pulled out the bells and whistles in his one Championship game, against Somerset. Rory Burns lost the toss, chucked the ball over and asked him to open the bowling. In the first innings, he whirled through 43 overs but was outbowled by Surrey’s spin twins Dan Moriarty and Amar Virdi. But by the second, he was up and running: taking six for 27 and decimating Somerset for 69. They were his second-best first-class figures outside India. And how very thoughtful of Surrey to bowl Ashwin into form before the Test series.
“That was seven weeks ago!” says Alec Stewart, Surrey’s long-serving director of cricket. “Whatever he did then will have no bearing on now, though if Burns gets a Test hundred after a long time watching him bowl in the field, I might get a pat on the back.”
Ashwin is no stranger to county cricket. He had a successful spell with Worcestershire in 2017, followed by a brief spell at Nottinghamshire during their disastrous 2019 estación, finishing top of the county’s batting averages and second in the bowling averages. He was greatly respected at both counties.
Stewart, también, is full of admiration for Ashwin, not only as a cricketer but also as a man. “He’s brilliant, he was only with us for five days but I’m a big fan. He is a cricketer who knows the history, who knows the game inside out. He was very aware of all the players in county cricket, even those you wouldn’t necessarily expect him to know. He is very much a studier of the game.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. He’s an exceptional cricketer, he’s the all-round package of batting and bowling.”
Ashwin, proud owner of 413 Test wickets and 2,685 Test runs, was the leading wicket-taker on either side during England’s tour last winter, grabbing 32 wickets at 14.71. With Virat Kohli stressing the need to think about his bowlers’ workloads, and the boost Ashwin would give to India’s vulnerable tail, his inclusion at the Oval seems a no-brainer. Stewart, for one, wouldn’t be surprised
“He’s a proven world-class performer. He won’t let anyone down, he’s that skilled, whether he goes for two runs an over or takes big numbers of wickets, though I’ll leave that decision to Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri.” But he warned that Ashwin shouldn’t expect quite such a receptive pitch as the one he enjoyed in July: “That pitch spun! It will be like chalk and cheese with the Test pitch.
“At the Oval, Test pitches generally turn towards the end of the match. I’m sure Chris Silverwood or Ashely Giles will have had a conversation with [the groundsman] but history says that on days four and five they assist the spinner.”