It was September 2016. Pakistan had just become the world’s No.1 ranked Test team after an epic 2-2 draw against England. India were in pursuit, with New Zealand in their sights. The cricket world knew that a clean sweep would see India leapfrog their great rivals into first place.
A billion devotees would get their wish. This was a series win scripted, in the main, by one man: Ravichandran Ashwin. It was a memorable occasion for the Indian cricket team and their hordes of supporters when Sunil Gavaskar handed the mace over to Virat Kohli at the conclusion of the series in Indore, which India won by 321 runs to follow up the 197-run win in Kanpur and then the victory by 178 runs in Kolkata.
No.1 in the world. A perch from which they haven’t been toppled since.
The numbers from the series paint a vivid picture. The top-four run-getters were all Indian: Cheteshwar Pujara (373), Ajinkya Rahane (347), Virat Kohli (309) and Rohit Sharma (238). Only three centuries were scored, all by the Indians in the final Test, with Kohli’s 211 the highest. Rahane also scored 188 in a first-innings total of 557/5dec in that Test.
But it was in the bowling figures that the real story lay. Right on top was Ashwin with 27 wickets, picked up at an average of 17.77 and at a strike rate of 32.5. Behind him was Ravindra Jadeja with 14 wickets, and then came the New Zealanders. India lost only 43 wickets in the series; New Zealand lost 60.
The most competitive of the matches was played at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, when India were bowled out twice for 316 and 263. It was chiefly due to the rearguard act from Wriddhiman Saha, the wicket-keeper, that India held on to win, and he was named Player of the Match for his twin half-centuries.
The series, however, belonged to Ashwin, the off-spinner with a bag of tricks.
He picked up 10 wickets in the first Test, including 6/132 in the final innings as New Zealand were bowled out for 236, but had a quieter time of it on the more seamer-friendly Kolkata pitch, picking up four wickets. Ashwin was back to his irresistible best in Indore, where Kohli and Rahane set things up nicely and he ran through New Zealand to return 6/81.
Pujara’s unbeaten 101 helped India declare and set New Zealand a target of 475, and while it was always going to be tough on a sub-continental pitch, Kane Williamson would have hoped for at least one of his batsmen, perhaps himself, to weather the storm. No go, as the 105 minutes Martin Guptill stayed in the middle was the most by any of their batsmen, and 64 the most balls faced by anyone – BJ Watling from No. 7. The best individual score: 32 by Ross Taylor. India’s dominance was complete.
Ashwin bowled like a dream, adding his name to the pantheon of legendary Indian spinners who have made visiting batsmen dance to their tune on the turners scattered around the country. Umesh Yadav started the procession by sending back Tom Latham, but after that it was all Ashwin, with Jadeja chipping in with the wickets of Jimmy Neesham and Guptill. Ashwin ended with 7/59 for the innings and 13/140 for the match.
With the rich haul, Ashwin not only became the No. 1 bowler in the MRF Tyres ICC Test Player Rankings for the second time in his career; he became only the sixth bowler to achieve 900 or more rating points, emulating Muttiah Muralitharan, Glenn McGrath, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn and Shaun Pollock.