Which factors make Ravi Ashwin a better Test spinner than Harbhajan Singh?
Ravichandran Ashwin in action [PC: Twitter]
India has a history of producing incredibly talented spinners. From the iconic Chandrasekhar-Bedi pair to the invincible Ashwin-Jadeja duo, spinners have always been integral to the Indian setup across formats.
After the talismanic Anil Kumble's retirement, India unearthed Ravichandran Ashwin to take his legacy forward. And to India's good fortune, the Tamil Nadu-born made sure the Indian fans didn't feel his neighbouring state icon's absence anymore.
The scientist, as fans and experts call him, has scalped 442 wickets in a mere 86 Test outings. He has evolved from a rookie to a maestro, stamping his authority over the purest format.
However, his comparison with the legendary finger-spinner Harbhajan Singh has been a matter of discussion since his international debut. But if you ask me, I will vote in favour of Ashwin as the better off-spinner between the two in Test cricket.
So, which factors make Ravi Ashwin a better Test spinner than Harbhajan?
Ashwin's invincibility at home
Ashwin has incredible numbers in India [PC: Twitter]
In 51 Test matches at home, Ashwin has picked 312 wickets at an average of 21.16 and a strike rate of 47.17. On the contrary, the respective numbers for Harbhajan are 265 wickets in 55 Tests at an average of 28.77 and a strike rate of 64.11.
So, as we can infer from the stats, Ashwin has left behind Harbhajan in this criterion by a fair margin, despite playing three fewer Tests than him.
Mind you, Indian pitches have always been conducive for spin bowling. But the rate at which Ashwin has produced wickets on home soil is simply unbelievable.
Ashwin, a scientist with the ball
In addition to the traditional off-break, Harbhajan had the doosra and the top-spinner in his armour. In contrast, Ashwin keeps discovering different kinds of deliveries and strengthening his spin arsenal.
Notably, Ashwin regularly bowls the carrom ball, the slider and the top-spinner apart from his regular off-breaks. Also, there are instances when he has delivered the leg break and the seam-up in-swingers to perfection. His efforts to evolve his game have reaped the rewards for Ashwin and increased his wicket-taking ability by a considerable margin.
Harbhajan didn't live up to the expectations [PC: Twitter]
If we look at Ashwin's career, we can infer that he has become a better bowler with time. The fact that he is still India's best spinner at 36 is a testimony to it.
Since the start of 2015, Ashwin has recorded an annual bowling average of less than 25 on six occasions, which is magnificent. He has been an asset for the Indian team at home and overseas.
Harbhajan, on the contrary, averaged more than 35 in seven out of his last nine years in the whites for India, gradually emerging as a liability with the ball. It indicates that a career, which began with a lot of promise, was certainly derailed by inconsistencies.
All these factors derive one conclusion. Ravichandran Ashwin has established himself as a better Test bowler than Harbhajan Singh, and the standards set by him will be too high to breach by any upcoming spinner.