In his 33rd Test, Ravichandran Ashwin averages 33.76. Coupled with a bowling average of 25.43, it’s little wonder that the Indian team management views him as a bonafide all-rounder. But in a Test career that is now five years old, he had never batted in the top six. His two previous centuries, both against West Indies (2011 and 2013), had come from No.8.
West Indies in their current avatar aren’t a formidable bowling side, though. Shannon Gabriel was exceptionally quick and hostile on the opening two days of the Antigua Test, but the support cast was little more than consistent. There was certainly no intimidatory air about them.
With surfaces in the Caribbean becoming more and more placid, India’s decision to go in with five specialist bowlers was no surprise. But that also necessitated Ashwin moving up to No.6. In tricky conditions and against a stronger attack, that would probably be a slot too high for him. But in Antigua, he did the job more than adequately.
Gabriel troubled him, as he did most of the others, and Shane Dowrich dropped a reasonably straightforward catch when Ashwin had made just 43. But having gone through a bit of a batting rut in the last 18 months, this was a welcome reminder of what Ashwin the batsman can do. He drove with immaculate timing, and even essayed a couple of pulls with flourish as he eased to 113.
For the five-bowler strategy to work though, India will need more from the specialist batsmen. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane both failed in the first innings, and Shikhar Dhawan stroked 84 after Gabriel initially put him through the wringer. Virat Kohli earned the appreciation of Sir Vivian Richards after his maiden double-hundred, but India can’t expect his purple patch to last forever – he averages 109.63 from 18 innings across all formats in 2016.
In his younger days, Ashwin was a top-order batsman. At various times in Australia, South Africa and England, he had shown that he has the temperament and the technique to deal with quality bowling. Maybe the responsibility of batting at No.6 – even the great Kapil Dev played only 13 innings there – will bring out the best in him.
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