In the 19th century, two bowlers — George Lohmann and Charlie Turner — got there faster. In the next century, only Sydney Barnes (in 1912 — 17 Tests) and Clarrie Grimmett (in 1931 — 17 Tests) reached there quicker. R Ashwin is the fastest to 100 wickets since 1931, and the fastest Indian ever to achieve the feat, in 18 Tests. The man whose Indian record he eclipsed was an off-spinner too — Erapalli Prasanna who needed 20 Tests. Anil Kumble needed 21. And when you break down those numbers and invest some thought, Ashwin’s is a mighty impressive feat.
And Ashwin is threatening to break the record for the fastest to the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets as well. He needs 260 runs from his next few Tests to surpass Ian Botham’s record. If you had to hold one thing against the all-rounder in bloom, it’s that he hasn’t produced the goods at the big stage. In the four home Tests against England last year, a series India lost, Ashwin managed only 14 wickets at 52.64. When India toured Australia in 2011-12, Ashwin took 9 wickets at 62.77 from three Tests, and he didn’t play in Perth. Though he took 29 wickets during the four-Test whitewash earlier this year, it won’t take a genius to tell you that Australia’s current batting line-up is substandard.
And Prasanna won’t budge from reminding Ashwin that he’s got a fair way to go. “One has to admit that getting 100 wickets from just 18 Tests is a very creditable feat. But he too needs to admit that most of his wickets have come in India and that too against West Indies. And West Indies batting lacks quality, and that was the case with some of the teams that visited India recently. He also needs to remind himself that performing overseas is the true test,” Prasanna told HT.
Ashwin has won 10 of his previous 17 Tests, but Prasanna wants him to take success in his stride. “As far as enjoying a long career ahead, can he serve India for as long as Harbhajan or Kumble? That remains to be seen. As of now, there is no other off-spinner who can push him for a place. That makes him a little more secure and he must take advantage of that. He has to make sure that he performs in South Africa next month to silence any critics, he must take criticism positively,” felt the spin great.
According to Prasanna, Ashwin still has a long way to go. “He needs to have more variations, and still needs to work a lot. It remains to be seen whether or not he has the ability to extract anything from foreign surfaces. But I don’t want to take anything away from Ashwin’s feats. He’s done well for himself.”