In the past 12 months in Tests, this man averages 15.39 with the ball, taking 6 five-wicket hauls in 8 Test matches. He averages 42 with the bat, thanks to two Test centuries in that period. He was the player of the series in the last three series India have featured.

“To me he is the team’s all-rounder. The team depends on him, he is the most important cricketer, he is the one who can change the game single-handedly,” said Kapil Dev.

“He is the most valuable player, he is a spinner but technically and mentally equipped to play as a batsman. Virat Kohli is fortunate to have someone like him in the team,” said VVS Laxman.

The greatest all-rounder India has ever produced and one of the batting stalwarts of the modern era of Test cricket were both talking about Ravichandran Ashwin ahead of the India-New Zealand Test on Thursday that kick starts a long domestic season for Kohli’s men.

And they are spot on.

b’AP / PTI’

Sample this: Sachin Tendulkar played 200 Test matches over the course of his 24-year career. He was player of the series five times. Virender Sehwag, one of India’s best match-winners, played 104 Tests and was player of the series five times as well. Anil Kumble, the man who will orchestrate India’s strategy from behind the scenes, won four man of the series awards over 132 matches.

Ashwin, meanwhile, has played just 36 Test matches so far. And he has already won the award six times. Six times.

That statistic right there is definitive proof that Ashwin is the ace up Kohli’s sleeve as India prepare to embark on a 13-Test journey in India.

It’s an age old cricketing adage — bowlers win you Test matches and Ashwin is the best India have got. He is Kohli’s strike bowler.

Ashwin’s 36 Test matches so far have seen him go from India’s next big spin hope, to being dropped for the first Test in the tour of Australia in 2014-15 (in favour of Karn Sharma), to re-establishing himself as the man central to India’s charge at reaching and sustaining the No 1 spot in Test cricket this season.

Over the past year, he has slowly but steadily shown he can perform outside the subcontinent. After a disappointing Test series Down Under, he was impressive at the World Cup in Australia in 2015. He was the man of the series in West Indies. In between all this, he has won man of the series awards in Sri Lanka and against South Africa in India.

It is also very easy to put Ashwin’s success down to the turning tracks that have become the norm in India. But that would be a very superficial way to look at his success. 

In the series against South Africa, in the now-infamous Nagpur Test, Ashwin bowled an absolute beauty to get rid of AB de Villiers in the 2nd innings. It was not about the square turn — it was the first time in that entire series that Ashwin had used the carrom ball. When de Villiers, a man at the top of his game, was expecting the ball to turn in massively, he got one early in his innings that did not — it held the line, squared him up and trapped him in front. Even in the series in Sri Lanka, Ashwin made Kumar Sangakkara’s farewell a nightmare.


Ashwin’s run of form in Test cricket is about much more than just the 22 yards between him and the batsman – it is about the guile, the art of controlling what the ball does, the knack of imparting the right number of revs on the red ball that make it dip and turn, rip and bounce. He is also the leader of the bowling attack — the man who is always in the ears of his fellow bowlers, helping them plot the next wicket, like we saw plenty of times during the recent Test series.

His role in the team multiplies in importance under Kohli because, apart from being the strike bowler, he is closest to a proper all-rounder India have got. Laxman, speaking at an event organised by Star Sports ahead of the India vs New Zealand series, was quick to point out the difference. 


“Ashwin is, first of all, India’s frontline bowler. He is a bowler who can contribute with the bat. Every time he goes out to bat, he cannot be expected to score big. But he has shown that he has got the perfect temperament to be a good Test batsman. You don’t score four Test hundreds just like that. His presence in the lower middle order is the reason Kohli can afford to persist with the five-bowler theory,” he said.

And therein lies the key to how the Kohli-Kumble era shapes up over the next few months. India are on the cusp of reaching the summit in Test rankings — and have 13 Tests on home soil against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia to reach there. The Virat Kohlis and Ajinkya Rahanes will be crucial of course, but if India are to fulfill their desire to win every match, Ashwin will be the man to deliver it.