India’s premier off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin on Friday picked up his 27th Test 5-wicket haul on Day 3 of the ongoing 1st Test match vs South Africa in Visakhapatnam. Incidentally, it was Ashwin’s 21st five-fer at home and his first in over 2 years (since August 2017). It also marked his 5th haul of 5 wickets and more vs the tourists.

While his figures of 5/128 don’t jump out of the books, it certainly reminds us of the extreme toil that Ashwin and his fellow mates had to face on a flat Day 3 track against some quality batting from the likes of Dean Elgar, Quinton de Kock and South African skipper Faf du Plessis. Ashwin’s 5th wicket came late in the 3rd session in the form of Vernon Philander, who was lured into a drive with the ball spinning sharply into him, while taking the inside edge on the way to rattling the stumps.

In doing so, Ashwin went past South African great Dale Steyn while tying with James Anderson and Ian Botham on the seventh spot on the list of players with the most 5-wicket hauls in Tests.

Ashwin’s tally of 5 five-wicket hauls vs South Africa is also the most for any Indian bowler against the visitors. Ashwin surpassed veteran Indian bowlers Harbhajan Singh and Javagal Srinath who had taken four five-fors each.

All-time leading Test wicket-taker Muttiah Muralitharan (45), Rangana Herath (26) and Anil Kumble (25) are the only other bowlers to have more five-fors in their home countries than Ashwin’s 21. Also, Ashwin’s latest feat has meant that he now lies behind only Muralitharan when it comes to rate of taking five-fors at home. Ashwin’s current average of 1.86 Tests per 5-wicket haul is second only to that of Muralitharan (1.62).

Earlier, Indian batting legend-turned-commentator criticized the team’s decision to not play the off-spinner more regularly.

“Ashwin should be a certainty. The fact that he has not been made to feel the comfort level is the reason why we are seeing him struggle a little bit,” Gavaskar told Star Sports during lunch on Day 3.

“He has also got to feel he has got the confidence of the people around him. When you don’t have the confidence of people around you, when you keep getting sidelined, then you try a little too hard.”

“I think, there is always these little comparisons he suffers from. When playing in Australia, he is compared to Nathan Lyon. Nathan Lyon is doing that doing this. But Lyon is bowling to the Indian batsmen. Similarly, in England, when Moeen Ali got 6 or 7 wickets, you say he didn’t get any wickets’. It can happen.

“I think there is more to it than just cricketing performances which is the reason he just finds himself sidelined more often than somebody with his record should be. Somebody who has got almost 350 wickets can’t be sidelined as regularly as he has been.”

“If it’s going to be hot conditions like this, you need an extra bowler. Whether it’s a spinner or seamer, it depends on the surface. I think India can afford to play 5 batsmen and with Ashwin who has 4 Test hundreds and Jadeja who is batting well with due respect to this South African attack,” he opined.