Team India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin delivered the goods for the team in yet another Test match at home. After playing a supporting role to left-arm spinner and comeback man Ravindra Jadeja with three wickets in the first innings against Australia in Nagpur, Ashwin was at his destructive best in the second innings, registering figures of 5/37 in 12 overs as Australia were bundled out for 91 in 32.3 overs. Australia’s worst fears came true as they went down in the match by an innings and 132 runs inside three days. During the course of his performance, Ashwin became the fastest Indian to claim 450 Test wickets and the second fastest ever, after Muttiah Muralitharan.
While Ashwin has done reasonably well in overseas conditions, he has an incredible record at home, arguably one of the finest ever. Over the years, a number of legends, from Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli and Anil Kumble to Harbhajan Singh, have come up with stellar performances at home, almost single-handedly winning games for India. In the wake of Ashwin’s latest exploits, we analyze if he can be considered India’s greatest match-winner at home with the ball in Test matches.
Ashwin’s incredible home record
In his overall Test career, Ashwin has picked up 457 wickets in 89 matches at an average of 24.05, with 31 five-wicket hauls and seven 10-wicket match hauls. Fifty-two of his 89 Tests have been played at home, in which he has claimed 320 wickets at a superb average of 20.88, with as many as 25 five-wicket hauls. Breaking down the numbers further, he has picked up 58 wickets in nine Tests against Australia (average 21.32), 74 wickets in 13 Tests against England (27.77), 59 and 46 wickets in seven Tests each against New Zealand and South Africa, respectively. So, Ashwin has done well against all top sides at home.
If we look at the off-spinner’s performance in winning causes in Tests at home, he has featured in 40 matches, claiming 266 wickets at an average of 17.76, which is way higher than his overall average. 23 of his 25 five-fors at home have been in winning Tests, which is a hugely significant indicator of how crucial Ashwin is to India’s fortunes in home Tests. India have lost only four Tests at home with Ashwin in the playing XI. The 36-year-old hasn’t had a good time in these matches – another proof that India find it tough to win home Tests when he under-performs. In the four Tests, Ashwin has picked up 23 wickets at an average of 33.47 with only one five-wicket haul.
Harbhajan and Kumble vs Ashwin
Before, Ashwin, Harbhajan, and Kumble were India’s match-winners at home with the ball. Speaking of Harbhajan first, he played 55 of his 103 Tests at home, claiming 265 wickets at an average of 28.76, with 18 five-wicket hauls. Harbhajan’s best performance came against Australia. In 14 Tests against them, he has claimed 86 wickets at an average of 25.43, with seven five-wicket hauls. However, The Turbanator produced surprisingly underwhelming numbers against other big opponents, even at home. He had a bowling average of 41.63 against New Zealand, 37.84 against Pakistan, 34.41 against England, and 31.29 against Sri Lanka.
Harbhajan featured in 42 Tests that India won at home, and his performances were highly impressive in these matches. He claimed 221 wickets at an excellent average of 22.76, with 14 five-wicket hauls. Harbhajan featured in 27 Tests that India lost and claimed 85 scalps in these games at an extremely poor average of 41.23. The former India off-spinner is one of India’s highest wicket-takers in the format. But he wasn’t consistent enough in the second half of his career. As a result, he faded away from the international arena towards the end of his career.
Indian leg-spin legend Anil Kumble emerges as a strong contender to Ashwin when it comes to picking the bigger match-winner at home. In his famed Test journey, Kumble played 132 matches, claiming 619 wickets at an average of 29.65, with 35 five-fers and eight 10-wicket match hauls. In 63 Tests at home, Kumble claimed 350 wickets at an average of 24.88, with 25 five-fers. Jumbo had an excellent record against most top sides at home. He claimed 62 scalps in 10 matches against Australia at an average of 24.46. Versus England, he picked up 56 wickets in nine Tests at an average of 23.64. Also, he averaged 21.79 in eight Tests against New Zealand and 27.57 in nine Tests against Pakistan.
If we look at Kumble’s performances in winning causes at home, he was exceptional. He claimed 208 wickets in 28 Test matches at an average of 17.38, with 16 five-wicket hauls. Kumble claimed three five-fers each against Australia, England, and Sri Lanka and two each against New Zealand and Pakistan. The former leg-spinner was part of 12 Tests that India lost at home. He managed only 49 wickets in these games at an average of 39.10, with three five-wicket hauls. Clearly, India struggled at home when Kumble struggled.
The batting factor
There is hardly anything to differentiate between Kumble and Ashwin when it comes to performances at home and their massive impact in winning Test matches. It can be safely said that Ashwin and Kumble are India’s greatest match-winners with the ball at home. In fact, their stats are amazingly similar. But if we have to use a separator, just to arrive at a conclusion over who is the better overall cricketer, we have to use the batting factor.
Kumble played a few handy knocks during his career and even has a Test hundred to his name. In matches at home that India won, he scored 548 runs at an average of 23.82, with a best of 42. On the other hand, Ashwin has 1069 runs at an average of 26.72, with two hundreds. Ash clearly pips Kumble, but only when it comes to being a bowling all-rounder.