“Ravichandran Ashwin is easily the best off-spinner in the world”
England’s former off-spin bowler Graeme Swann was forthright in his assessment of the Indian, who despite his dubious records away from home towers over the other spinners in the world at the moment. After being dropped from the ODI side in favour of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal tried bowling with the leg-break in the IPL this season and remodelled his action to bring in more variations to his armoury. It ended up paying rich dividends as the Tamil Nadu player has already scalped 8 wickets in the ongoing tour, including a match-haul of 7/121 at Edgbaston.
So, is Ashwin really the best in the world at the moment? We will delve deeper into his standing among fellow off-spinners and try to come up with a conclusion. Matches from January 1, 2016, to August 27, 2018, have been taken into consideration. Players who have played at least 15 matches have been considered as well.
|Name||Matches||Wickets||Bowling Average||Strike-rate||5-wicket hauls||10-wicket hauls|
Thus, the above table shows us that only Australia’s Lyon comes anywhere close to Ashwin’s feats and over the course of the article, we will try to compare the achievements that both have achieved since January 1, 2016, across conditions.
Performance in different conditions: a reflection of skills
The toughest job of being a spinner is rising to the occasion when the track has nothing in it for the slower bowlers. With the SENA countries (South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand) assisting the quicks, the off-spinner has to constantly remain on his toes and try clever variations – which we witnessed from the Indian in the first Test.
|Player||In South Africa||In England||In Australia and New Zealand||In the Subcontinent|
While Lyon has much better figures in the subcontinent, which is largely due to his performance in Bangladesh where he averaged 14.31 picking up 22 wickets in 2 matches, Ashwin has a more consistent approach to bowling in Asia. He performed reasonably well in West Indies as well, where he had scalped 17 wickets at 23.17 in 4 matches.
Though Lyon was in fine form in the 2017/18 Ashes, he has been unable to replicate the showing across continents, which pushes Ashwin to the driver’s seat.
Contribution as the Test progresses
While the first two innings in a Test are generally meant for the success of the seamers, usually the tracks slow down and starts helping spinners on the fourth and fifth days of play (unless a dust bowl has been produced).
|Average of Ashwin in the different innings of a Test match|
|Innings||Average in Asia||Average outside Asia|
|Average of Lyon in different innings of a Test match|
|Innings||Average in Asia||Average outside Asia|
Contrary to the belief that Lyon’s first innings average in Asia is spiked due to playing against Bangladesh, the Australian has an impressive average of 15.67 when the minnow side is excluded – a commendable feat indeed. It can not be said that the tracks where Lyon achieved his average of 16.26 in the first innings had nothing for the faster bowlers either, because Australia’s pacers averaged 28.76 in the first innings since January 2016 on the same track, with Mitchell Starc averaging a little over 17. Hence, it was Lyon’s expertise that has stood out.
Ashwin meanwhile impresses with an astounding average of 16.87 away from home, a stat that is quite contrary to popular belief in which he has been dissed aside due to his poor records outside Asia. He bowled with an average of 22.33 in the first innings in 2 games in South Africa, scalping 6 wickets and repeated the feat at Edgbaston where he picked up 4 wickets. His show in the first Test pushed down his average while bowling in the first innings in England to 15.50. What stood out was how the track on offer had all the traits for his failure – it was swinging, bouncing and seaming and the conditions were overcast. The first day of the Test series was traditionally supposed to go in favour of the Ishant Sharmas and the Umesh Yadavs, but Ashwin held on and eventually his performance earned him the tag of the best off-spinner in play currently from Swann. Though his numbers dip drastically in the second innings, he inches just ahead of Lyon in this category too just because of his display with the ball in the first innings overseas that are the harshest for spinners.
Contributions in wins and draws
Both Lyon and Ashwin are match-winners for their respective sides, thus it would only be fair to judge how effective they are in winning causes.
|Player||Average in wins/draws (overall)||Average in wins/draws in Asia||Average in wins/draws outside Asia||Average in wins/draws in the 4th innings in Asia|
The above table suggests that Lyon is way ahead of Ashwin when it comes to match-winning performances in the fourth innings in Asia. However, it accounts for only one match that Australia won last February and hence it would be unfair to compare the two averages, considering Ashwin has played in 9 games that either ended in a win or draw at home.
Outside Asia though, Ashwin towers over Lyon and for his performances in stiff conditions, it can be agreed that he is the best off-spinner in the world at the moment.