Where does R Ashwin, India's spin lynchpin, stand among the bowling pantheon as he embarks upon his 100th Test. A data-driven look

March 5, 2024 - Chennai


India's spin bowling lynchpin is at a stage of his career where he is creating a record in every Test match he is playing. Earlier this month, R Ashwin captured his 500th wicket in the third Test match of the India-England series becoming the second Indian and just the ninth bowler to achieve the feat.

In the first week of March 2024, Ashwin will be playing in his 100th Test match. He will be only the 14th cricketer, among 313 Indian Test players ever, to play in 100 Tests.

Ashwin's record in Tests is phenomenal. His 507 wickets in 99 matches were achieved at an average of 23.91 and a fabulous strike rate (balls bowled to pick up a wicket) of 51.3. Here's a breakdown of the 507 wickets by opposing teams

Ashwin's wickets by opponents

The bulk of the 507 wickets - 354 of them to be precise - were achieved in India, the highest for any Indian bowler. The next best are Anil Kumble (350), Harbhajan Singh (265) and Kapil Dev (219). Here's a look at the average and strike rate for Ashwin venue-wise. While he has a great record in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies, his average (39.4) and strike rate (83.7) in the pace-friendly SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia) countries pale in comparison to other venues.

VenueMatchesWktsBest figures (Innings)Best figures (Match)AverageStrike Rate5fers10fers
in India593547/5913/14021.346.6276
in SENA*25714/557/12139.483.700
in West Indies6327/7112/13119.341.441
in Sri Lanka6386/4610/16021.641.131
in Bangladesh3125/876/13728.455.910

Yet another telling statistic for Ashwin's wickets is that nearly half of them are of left handed batsmen (LHB). Ashwin has been lethal against southpaws, picking 252 (the highest for any bowler) of them in his total tally of 507. The percentage of LHB that Ashwin has picked up - 49.7% is also the highest. See the chart below for bowlers with more than 400 wickets to find out their LHB% and total number of wickets against LHBs.

Ashwin vs others, LHB, LHB%

It is no wonder that current England captain Ben Stokes (12 dismissals), Australia's David Warner (11), England's Alastair Cook (9) and New Zealand's Tom Latham (8) are the batters whose wickets Ashwin has picked the most. All of them are left-handed. More importantly, among the 15 batters who got out to Ashwin's bowling the most, only three - England's Jimmy Anderson, Australia's Nathan Lyon and South Africa's Morne Morkel bat in the lower order, an indication of the spin maestro's prowess.

Whose wicket did Ashwin get the most

Where do Ashwin's records stand among those of the pantheon of world's best bowlers? Only 197 bowlers have picked 100 wickets for more in Test cricket overall. Strike rates are very useful when comparing bowlers. The lower the strike rate, more lethal the bowler. We plot a graph for those bowlers' wickets against their strike rate (reversed). The dashed line indicates the medians for both axis.

You can select the type of bowler you want from the dropdown below. Note how the median strike rate and wickets change for pace bowlers and spinners. Hover over or tap the dots in the scatterplot to check the strike rates and wickets for all bowlers who picked up 100 or more wickets in Test cricket. Spinners are marked in blue (except Ashwin, whose image is in the plot) and pacers are marked in red. Data for the plot is until the Test between India and England that ended on February 26, 2024

Outstanding among spinners

In general, fast bowlers have had a better strike rate than spin bowlers. But Ashwin had the best strike rate among spinners who picked up 120 wickets in their career, which is even better than the two highest wicket takers, M Muralitharan (55.05, 800 wickets) and Shane Warne (57.49, 708 wickets).When you look at overseas records on the other hand (click on the dropdown to choose "Overseas"), it is clear that Warne (54.7) among spinners and Dale Steyn (45.5) among pacers had the best strike rates for bowlers who picked up at least 150 overseas wickets. Ashwin is not far behind, with a strike of 62.1 per wicket.

Among Indians, his compatriot Ravindra Jadeja's strike rate comes closest. The tremendous strike rate has allowed Ashwin to pick up 500 wickets quite quickly, in just 98 Tests, relative to other bowlers.

Ashwin's journey to 500 and more

Apart from looking at Ashwin's bowling record vis-a-vis other Test bowlers, we also need to look at how he quickly he reached various milestones in his career. We try to do that in this race visualisation assuming all the bowlers in the list (100 Test wickets or above) start from zero and their matches played are taken into account. Before clicking on "Start race", set an endpoint for the race. Let's start with 100 wickets. When the race begins, you can see who was the fastest to 50 wickets and where Ashwin was at that point.

You can also hover over each bar (corresponding to every bowler) to see where they were when those bowlers whose names are listed in the "milestone box" reached this milestone. Only the first five set of bowlers are listed in the "milestone box" (except when the endpoint chosen is 800). We list the milestone as 500 wickets for the race with endpoints 600 and above. We end the race at 133 matches when the last endpoint, 800, is chosen. This corresponds to Muralitharan's wickets. Muralitharan, as the scatterplot above showed, is the highest wicket taker in Test cricket history.

Go ahead and run the race for the different endpoints. Check out the names of bowlers who crossed various milestones. Note: the data for this exercise is limited to all the Tests that were played till Ashwin completed his milestone of 500 wickets (his 98th Test and the third Test between India and England in 2024 five-match series). Ashwin is among the fastest to reach most milestones starting from 50 to 500, a testament to his consistency since his debut.

Click on "Play" to see a race between bowlers (limited to those who have picked up at least 100 Test wickets) for various milestones in Test cricket starting from 50 wickets to 800 for each match played. The video ends at 133 Tests- corresponding to the end of Muralitharan's career. Ashwin is among the fastest to reach most milestones starting from 50 to 500, a testament to his consistency since his debut.

Bowlers and milestones

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