Test great Steve Waugh has described off-spinner Ravi Ashwin as the "Bradman of bowling" as the build-up to Australia's Test series with India intensifies.
With Australia having arrived in Mumbai ahead of a practice match beginning Friday, Waugh singled out off-spinner Ashwin as the single most decisive factor in the four-Test series, going so far as to offer a lofty comparison with the great Sir Donald Bradman – a batsman who, more than 68 years after his international cricket swansong, remains a statistical anomaly in the game with a Test average of 99.94 and 29 hundreds in 52 Tests.
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Ashwin collected his 250th Test wicket against Bangladesh last week in just his 45th Test – three matches clear of the previous record holder, Australia pace legend Dennis Lillee.
His strike-rate of 51.5 is the lowest among spinners with 250-plus wickets, while his record at home is simply staggering: 187 wickets in 28 Tests at 22.11.
The 30-year-old already sits equal-fifth on the all-time list for 10-wicket Test hauls, having taken seven in his 45 matches, behind only Muthiah Muralitharan (22 in 133 Tests), Shane Warne (10 in 145), Sir Richard Hadlee (nine in 86) and Anil Kumble (eight in 132).
Since his debut in November 2011, his 254 wickets are the most by any Test bowler, and incredibly, more than double his nearest teammate, Ravindra Jadeja (117) in the same period.
"Ashwin is like the Bradman of bowling at the moment," Waugh was quoted as saying in the Indian media.
"He is doing what Bradman did with batting and he's a pretty handy batsman as well.
"The way he is playing at the moment, he is going to break a number of records. His record in India is just phenomenal.
"He's the player I think we have to overcome, and if we can do that we have a chance."
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Waugh also pointed out that the likely introduction of Ashwin early in a bowling innings – the spinner has even taken the new ball in the second innings of India's last two Tests – could go some way to quelling the threat of dashing Australia opener David Warner.
"Warner is an amazing player. He's changing the way opening batting is looked at and he's really defining the role," he said.
"But he's going to be facing Ashwin in the first or second over every time and I don't think there is going to be two opening pace bowlers coming against him."
The ex-Australia captain and veteran of 168 Tests responded to his former rival Sourav Ganguly's taunt that India would clean sweep the series four-nil and extend their unbeaten streak to 23 matches in the process.
"It's foolish to write (Australia) off like that," he said. "I think anything can happen. India hasn't seen a lot of our players.
"I believe (Mitchell) Starc is the best quick bowler in the world and (Josh) Hazlewood is right up there.
The spinners – the jury's out a bit there but (Nathan) Lyon is a very good competitor.
"Sourav is a bit optimistic and I'll challenge him on that. Certainly, Australia won’t be going to India thinking that they will lose four-nil."
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Waugh led Australia in India in the famous 2001 series that the tourists lost 2-1 but which ultimately paved the way for success there in 2004 – some nine months after Waugh played his final Test.
His Australian side thrashed India in the series opener in that epic '01 series before being undone by a stunning partnership by VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid in the second Test in Kolkata, while young off-spinner Harbhajan Singh tormented the visitors throughout the three matches.
Since the 2004 defeat at the hands of an Australia side led by stand-in skipper Adam Gilchrist, India have lost just one Test series at home – to England in 2012.
Waugh, who thrived as a batsman on foreign turf, averaging 55.50 outside Australia with 17 hundreds, said he was perplexed by the recent trend of teams struggling to compete in away series.
"Everyone's form away from home has been dismal and I don't know why that is," he added. "Everyone plays a lot around the world, we have neutral umpires, (there are) no excuses not to play well away from home.
"I always used to enjoy playing overseas and felt there was less pressure, away from all the expectations of friends and family as well, you can tend to relax when you are playing away from home."