Dubai�:�Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin on Thursday became only the second Indian, after the legendary Bishan Singh Bedi, to be ranked as the No.1 bowler in Tests in the latest International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings.
Ashwin achieved the top spot for the first time in his career after injury prevented South African Dale Steyn from bowling more than 3.5 overs in England's second innings in the Durban Test.
Even though the fast bowler bagged four wickets in the first innings, it wasn't enough for him to end the year as the No.1 bowler for the sixth time since 2009, and the position went to the Chennai man. Steyn had started the Durban Test leading Ashwin by four points and now trails the Indian tweaker by the same margin.
The 29-year-old Ashwin has become the first Indian since Bedi in 1973 to achieve the milestone of finishing the year as No.1. In fact, Bedi, an ICC Hall of Famer, is the only Indian to ever top the Test bowling table while Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Kapil Dev and Anil Kumble peaked at No.2 during their careers.
Ashwin finished 2015 as the most successful bowler with 62 wickets in nine Tests, seven five-wicket hauls and best figures of 7/66. This is reflected in his ranking after he started the year in 15th and slowly but surely moved to the top.
He was instrumental in India's most recent Test series wins over Sri Lanka and South Africa with 21 and 31 wickets, respectively. He walked away with the Man of the Series award on both occasions.
Ashwin also scored 248 Test runs at 20.66 during the year with three half-centuries. His ranking in the One-Day International (ODI) and Twenty20 International bowlers' rankings is 10th and fifth, respectively.
In the past decade, Australian Shane Warne finished in the top spot in 2005 and Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralidaran completed a hat-trick from 2006 to 2008 before Steyn got his grip on the top spot which was only broken in 2013 when his teammate Vernon Philander topped the table.
"Finishing the year as the No.1 ranked Test bowler is like icing on the cake that I have managed to build over the past 12 months. I always wanted to get there one day. There can't be a better way to finish 2015," Ashwin said.
"Replicating what Mr. Bedi did is something I am very proud of. The former India captain was a master at his craft and I am very humbled to follow in his footsteps. I would like to thank my Test captain Virat Kohli, who has been a big influence and, of course, the team management, my teammates and the BCCI for their continued support."
The only other Indian in the top-10 bowlers' list is Ravindra Jadeja, who also rose a spot to be ranked No.6.
"It gives me immense joy to see the tremendous growth and progress the Indian team made over the course of 2015. The twin series victories, over Sri Lanka and South Africa, saw Ashwin's rise as a match-winner, and were the perfect way to end what was an eventful cricketing year for the team. I congratulate Ashwin on his achievements," BCCI president Shashank Manohar said.
Acknowledging Ashwin's achievements, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur said: "It is a testimony to Ashwin's incredible skills and form that he has become the first Indian bowler to lead the ICC's Test Rankings since 1973. He has played a key role in taking India to No.2 position in Tests and I wish him all the best for the coming year."
Ashwin, for the second time in three years, also finished as the No.1 ranked Test all-rounder with Jadeja in fifth place.
Meanwhile, Australian captain Steve Smith, who last week won the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for Cricketer of the Year as well as Test Cricketer of the Year award, has jumped three spots to become the No.1 ranked batsman in Tests.
There are no Indians in the top-10 list of Test batsmen released on Thursday.
Top-10 Test batsmen: 1. Steve Smith (Aus) 899 points 2. Kane Williamson (NZ) 889 3. Joe Root (Eng) 888 4. AB de Villiers (SA) 877 5. David Warner (Aus) 827 6. Younus Khan (Pak) 826 7. Angelo Mathews (SL) 808 8. Hashim Amla (SA) 774 9. Misbah-ul-Haq (Pak) 764 10. Alastair Cook (Eng) 764
Top-10 Test bowlers: 1. Ravichandran Ashwin (Ind) 871 points 2. Dale Steyn (SA) 867 3. Stuart Broad (Eng) 859 4. Yasir Shah (Pak) 846 5. James Anderson (Eng) 838 6. Ravindra Jadeja (Ind) 789 7. Trent Boult (NZ) 787 8. Josh Hazlewood (Aus) 752 9. Vernon Philander (SA) 739 10. Tim Southee (NZ) 731
Top-5 Test all-rounders: 1. Ravichandran Ashwin (Ind) 406 points 2. Shakib Al Hasan (Ban) 384 3. Stuart Broad (Eng) 326 4. Vernon Philander (SA) 293 5. Ravindra Jadeja (Ind) 259 (IANS)