Ashwin unplugged

"As for my bowling, I am in one of the best phases of my life, but I wouldn’t say this is the best. I think the best times could be lying ahead, you never know. Every time I thought this is the best I am bowling, I have always managed to surprise myself, which is a good thing," says Ravichandran Ashwin.

India's lead spinner Ravichandran Ashwin interacts with the media during an event announcing his signing up with ITW Blitz, a global talent management company. To his right is Bhairav Shanth, Co-founder and Director of ITW.   -  V. GANESAN

Fresh from a rousing 2016 in which he scaled several peaks and found deserving recognition through two awards — Cricketer of the Year and Test Cricketer of the Year — from the ICC, Ravichandran Ashwin admitted to a strong feeling of emotion over his success. He also pointed to the tipping point that shaped his journey.

Leaping back in time, Ashwin reflected on the Adelaide Test against Australia in December 2014. India’s lead spinner was benched, as skipper Virat Kohli plumped for debutant leg-spinner Karn Sharma. In a refreshing take on his then piquant situation, Ashwin preferred to look inwards rather than apportion blame to the others.

“In hindsight, it was a kick up my backside to tell me that, I was not good enough. The only thing I did was to tell myself that my attitude needed a kick up the backside,” he candidly said in a press conference at Crowne Plaza, here, on Friday afternoon.

That bout of introspection steeled Ashwin and the rest is history.

The media interaction was primarily focussed on announcing his signing up with ITW Blitz, a global talent management company, which will handle his endorsements and corporate forays besides finding synergies with his Gen Next Academy and the R. Ashwin Foundation.

Ashwin also dealt with cricketing issues. He spoke his mind, was candid and revealed the fierce focus that helped him redefine his career.

Excerpts:

Awards galore

The ICC Awards were the capping of a wonderful year or two for me. I have had two years of 50-plus wickets now. I also have contributed in a big fashion to the team’s scaling of heights and moving to the No. 1 ranking.

A mirror to the self

In 2014, what panned out (being dropped) in Adelaide was a shock for me. In hindsight, it was a kick up my backside to tell me that I was not good enough. To take it personally is very, very easy, which I might have done if I was in 2008. I had been left once before. Probably, I had to look within myself, and one thing I look back at was my college days. That was my turning point.

 

I am more than a cricketer who became an engineer; I would call myself an engineer who became a cricketer. Because until then, I was cricketer, who played and enjoyed my sport and I thought I was born to play cricket. But what engineering taught me was the harsh reality of life. I went to the HOD for my final year saying, ‘Sir, my records are not pertinently signed. And I need it signed to appear in my final exams to become an engineer.’ He said, ‘Anyway you earn money. You have a contract with the Chennai Super Kings. It’s not like you need to be an engineer. An engineer is someone who works and it is deserved by so many people on the streets and you seem to have actually played cricket, come on your free time to college and have become an engineer.’

So what struck me that day was he said, ‘If at all you deserve to be an engineer and also deserve to be a cricketer, you need to put in the hard yards. What have you done to be eligible of this engineering degree?’

And I went back home thinking about it. I discussed this with my mother and she said, ‘If you don’t improve, you don’t get very far in life. But if you don’t change, you don’t give yourself a chance to improve.’

I would go back into the story because that match in Adelaide, when I had nothing to do for five days, when actually Nathan Lyon was ripping the Indian batting line-up apart, was this particular statement I gave myself: ‘Change and improvement are directly proportional; one cannot exist or happen without the other. And if I have to change and decided to change, improvement is the result; it’s just around the corner. But if I look to improve, change is inevitable.’ The only thing I did was to tell myself that my attitude needed a kick up the backside, and attitude needed to change. Because my attitude was coming in the way of actually improving myself.

An academy and a foundation

Back in 2010, I started my first cricket academy. Most people said what the hell was I doing. They said, ‘You have started your career, make sure you concentrate on your game.’ These are conventional methods of thinking. And it’s a very Chennai or Tamil way of thinking. But I never paid heed. Here I am today running successfully into the sixth year of the Gen Next Academy. We do exchange programmes across the world now. And we have embarked on global tour right now. And those are the partnerships that we discussed about (with ITW Blitz). What stood out was we were not talking money. We were talking about how we could touch lives through an Ashwin Foundation. Today’s actually the day we launch Ashwin Foundation. We are touching lives through eye donation. We will embark on a lot of good causes. We are definitely looking to progress through our partnership. I am not a man for money. It’s about the difference we can make.

A recap and a look ahead

I didn’t set any goals for 2016. Apart from the fact that I wanted to be the most valuable player in the team and try and make sure that the team wins. I can’t even remember where we celebrated the New Year, that’s how busy the year has been. But the only regret I have is lack of family time.

 

Going into 2017 will be an even bigger challenge. The process is very important. Having a clear-cut plan, to execute that plan in the nets and be ready for the next day, and for the body to bowl those 30 to 40 overs, in a day or an innings. Those are the things I am preparing for.

Expectations and challenges

I am not playing for anything else. I am not playing for high rewards. I am playing for the fact that I think I love this game much more than anything else in the world. The expectations, and how people push me down or criticise me when I am not playing well, it is just made for me. If you are going to challenge me, I am just going to look to improve and try and beat it. The day I don’t, I will probably call it quits.

Dhoni’s legacy

He has had an illustrious career as captain. There are a lot of leadership lessons even for bigger leaders out there. I feel the question will there be anyone to take forward the Indian team is wrong in itself. Definitely, someone will emerge and Virat Kohli is no way lesser in captaincy and his record in Tests in the last year has been very good. I am sure MSD has seen those as well and decided to pass on the baton. Whether someone can achieve what Dhoni has done? Well, it will definitely be a Herculean task.

Wielding the willow

Sanjay Bangar (batting coach) has been a very influential character as far as my batting is concerned. I have another unconventional coach in Mr. Srinivasan, who works at my academy. Precisely, before every series, we tried to replicate all the bowlers in the opposite ranks whom we could manage. For example, before the New Zealand series we replicated Trent Boult’s left-arm over, but we missed out on his left-arm around and which was exactly how I got dismissed in Kanpur. It’s a work in progress, we do different match scenarios. Even for the ODIs, we are trying to simulate how many balls we can bat. So that’s another unconventional method I have made, and it’s worked like magic so far.

The best days of his life

As for my bowling, I am in one of the best phases of my life, but I wouldn’t say this is the best. I think the best times could be lying ahead, you never know. Every time I thought this is the best I am bowling, I have always managed to surprise myself, which is a good thing.