R Ashwin is India's greatest match-winner with the ball at home in Test cricket. The off spinner also has four Test hundreds and showed all the signs and potential of becoming a genuine all-rounder for India early in his career. However, post 2017 his batting took a dip which affected India's team balance as it prolonged their tail which affected them adversely overseas. But with a brilliant match-saving 39 off 128 deliveries battling severe pain in the back at the SCG and another 31 under pressure against England in Chennai Ashwin has made a strong statement with the bat which augurs well for India and the team combination.
Ashwin had an aggregate of 1816 runs in 44 Tests (62 innings) at an impressive average of 34.92 in the period from his debut in November, 2011 till the end of 2016. All four of his Test hundreds came during this period. 10 of his 11 fifties also came in this time-frame. Ashwin floated between positions 6-9 but batted a majority 37 times from number 8. Amongst the 13 batsmen who scored a minimum of 300 runs from number 8 from Ashwin's debut till the end of 2016, the Indian off spinner had the highest batting average of 31.74, ahead of players like Ravindra Jadeja, Chris Woakes, Jason Holder and Moeen Ali to name a few.
Ashwin had an average of 55.16 from number 6 from where he also registered two of his four hundreds in this period. He played like a top order batsman often batting with an impeccable defense and wonderful timing. It seemed India had found a genuine all-rounder who had the potential to do great things both with the ball and bat. But then there was a slump in his batting and the numbers went crashing down.
Ashwin just managed to score a mere 602 runs in 39 Test innings in 29 Tests at an average of 16.72 with no hundred and only one fifty between 2017 and 2020. His batting average went down by more than half - this was a drastic fall in his batting numbers and although he continued to bamboozle opposition line-ups with the ball, India lost Ashwin the all-rounder in this period.
This also affected the team combination overseas and forced India to play six proper batsmen. Also, India gave Jadeja preference over Ashwin as the lone specialist spinner in overseas conditions in SENA keeping in mind the dramatic improvement in the left-hander's batting prowess. Ashwin was in woeful form with the bat in this four year period. He had a Failure Rate of as high as 69.44% (percentage of innings dismissed below 20).
2021 has begun well for the Chennai born superstar. His match-saving knock in Sydney showcased his talent, ability and temperament with the bat. In Chennai, he came out to bat with India in deep trouble at 225 for 6 and put together a crucial 80-run stand for the seventh-wicket with another local boy, Washington Sundar. The pair batted out invaluable time and overs and chipped into England's first innings lead. India's innings was prolonged and the home team managed to bat for almost 96 overs in the first innings. The heat and humidity of Chennai meant that England were forced to not enforce the follow-on.
Still a long time to go in the Test and England are still in a dominant position to enforce a result but Ashwin with his 91-ball 31 may have just done enough to save the Test for India.