There can be no comparison with the 1980s, the golden age of all-rounders which featured Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee. Since then, Jacques Kallis has been the only all-rounder who could demand selection purely as a batsman or bowler.
In the India versus England series, Ben Stokes, 25, and R Ashwin, 30, have got the excitement soaring in a battle of genuine all-rounders.
There is no disputing Ashwin’s credentials as the bowling leader, but he played two good innings at crucial junctures in the drawn Rajkot Test. Stokes underlined his importance for England with a fighting century in the first innings.
The most important feature of Stokes’ innings was his ability to adapt. Till now, most of his innings have been counter-attacking knocks. Here he mixed natural aggression with caution, tackling challenging periods of play on a track slower than what he prefers. He scored 128 and held the lower order together, restricting Ashwin’s figures of 46-3-167-2.
England skipper Alastair Cook seemed to deliberately under-bowl Stokes. He is considered an exponent of reverse swing, but when there was no hint of it due to a lush outfield that prevented the ball from getting scuffed up easily, England wisely chose to hold Stokes back.
Cook used him only for 19 overs in all, mainly to keep him fresh.
Having a good all-rounder allows teams to attack, and play an extra bowler. At Rajkot, India fielded five bowlers and England six.
For Cook, Stokes’ effort in Rajkot and his 85 in Bangladesh showed his growing maturity. “The hundred against Bangladesh and the 80 in the Test, a year ago he wouldn’t have been able to play that innings. It’s down to sheer hard work. He’s our golden player. He balances the side. He allows us to play three seamers and three spinners. He bats at No 6. Turning wickets were probably his last challenge,” said Cook.
It needs no emphasis how dependent India are on Ashwin. He didn’t pick many wickets and the Indian attack struggled to cut through the opposition line-up. In the last two series wins at home, versus New Zealand and South Africa, Ashwin had a combined tally of 57 wickets.
Ashwin was an opening batsman as a budding cricketer and his batting improvement at this level has been impressive. He not only soaked up pressure, but showed fine technique against spin to score 70 and 32.
In the next four Tests, drier surfaces should suit the bowling of both Ashwin and Stokes.
But it will be interesting to know what England’s Moeen Ali, who struck 117 and took three wickets in another brilliant show, has to say in the debate on all-rounders.