R Ashwin has said that he is “fighting my own benchmarks” because his Test performances overseas are being measured against his heroics in India. Despite being the country’s best long-form spinner in this decade, there has been only one instance of Ashwin playing every match of a Test series held outside Asia.
Various factors have contributed to this situation, including injury to the player and selection based on horses for courses logic. Take India’s most recent Test tour. Ashwin played the first match against New Zealand in Wellington but lost his spot in the next one to Ravindra Jadeja as the team management sought to bolster their batting firepower.
Despite this trend of not being picked consistently for overseas matches, Ashwin said his numbers since the Johannesburg Test in December 2013, where he went wicketless in 42 overs, have “significantly increased.”
In an extensive conversation with Sanjay Manjrekar for ESPNcricinfo’s Videocast series, he said: “See, one thing is for sure. I’m actually fighting my own benchmarks in a lot of ways. The number of games that I’ve managed to win for my country and for myself, the number of successes I’ve had and the excellence I’ve shown is always measured up in equal parlance when I travel away from the country, which is great.”
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Ashwin’s numbers outside Asia have certainly become better after the 2016 tour of West Indies, where he featured in the whole series. Since then in 12 Tests outside Asia, he has picked up 44 wickets at an average of 27.65. Eight of those were played in Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand, where Ashwin took 27 wickets at 30.48.
Before 2016, he had played nine Tests outside Asia, which yielded 24 wickets at 56.58
Since becoming a one-format player after the 2017 Champions Trophy, Ashwin has spent summers in the UK playing county cricket so that he can be a wicket-taker even on unfriendly pitches.
“Increasingly the number of games I’ve played in England, I’ve started realising that for a spinner to be bowling in alien conditions and to be able to repeat similar numbers (as at home), you need to be bowling in all the possible right times of the game, first. And, secondly, you do need a little bit of luck. After 2014 [December 2013] when I had that South Africa game, I’ve taken a very serious look at my numbers and those numbers have significantly increased very, very well.”
Ashwin also opened up on the hurt caused by critics who questioned him after his injuries at crucial times in the 2018 tour of England and later Australia. Ashwin suffered a hip injury during the fourth Test in Southampton and was again ruled out after the first Test in Adelaide.
Ashwin said his body had “let him down” due to the “stop-start” nature of being a single-format player. Asked whether technically he was facing any challenges overseas, Ashwin disagreed, saying he had grown wiser and better with every experience. “For me to able to deliver on a consistent basis abroad there are a lot of factors beyond just me that need to go into it.”
The first episode of the Ashwin interview will be aired on April 28 on ESPNcricinfo