Ravichandran Ashwin became the fourth Indian to 400 wickets, and the second-fastest overall (in terms of Tests played) to the mark, when he got Jofra Archer out in the second innings of the third Test in Ahmedabad. The 10-wicket win against England, where India's primary spinners Axar Patel and Ashwin took 18 of the 20 wickets, took the host side a step closer to the World Test Championship final at Lord's later this year.
Ashwin spoke at length about his remarkable achievement, the pink-ball challenge and dealing with the bio-bubble fatigue.
You have been moving from one bio-bubble to another since last year’s IPL. How challenging has it been?
I had my family in the second half of the IPL and the full tour of Australia. In this series, I’ve used a rotation policy and left them at home. I think without them around, it can be incredibly hard. Yes, we get larger hotel spaces. We do get our entertainment area. We bond much better. One thing that stands out is because of this bio-bubble, the team bonding has gotten better.
I am sure a lot of people feel bored and lonely. It’ll be nice if they come out and seek some help. I've been mostly watching stuff online, reading books and doing a bit of yoga and meditation.
As a spinner, is this your best phase ever?
I’d probably say this is one of the best phases in terms of the awareness I have about my skill, what I need to be doing at different phases of the game. Sometimes you want to execute something, but you are not quite there; you're a little bit off the mark, by a few centimetres or inches, and that makes a huge difference in sport. It’s a combination of a lot of things. I can’t put my finger and say this is why it’s happening. The awareness of the game, the understanding of the game, things that I pick up, small cues that I watch – all these things are just coming together, and I am very, very blessed and thankful that they’re coming together at this point. I’d like to continue and stick to the sort of work that I’ve put in through the lockdown for the next whatever years I have left in me.
In this series, the talk has been about the pitch rather than the skills of the players...
I think people need to get the context of what’s happening here. There have been some people who have messaged me and said the match has finished in two days. What about all the three pink-ball Test matches we’ve played? Everything’s ended within three days. I do not know what to say because when somebody just throws an opinion out there about the surface – and having had played the game – unfortunately, maybe they’ve not played pink-ball Test matches, so they do not understand this facet of the game. My angst against the whole thing is the fact that when people say something, there are so many of them who are watching the same picture but are not able to paint a different one compared to somebody who is driving and selling a case to us, and this needs to stop.
You got Ollie Pope out twice in the third Test. Could you weigh in on those dismissals?
Pope is a fine player who is coming through the ranks. I watched a lot of footage on how he goes about his batting. He likes to use his feet, uses the reverse sweep and sweep. For me, it’s about what shot he’s positioning himself to play; he positions himself to play a few shots well ahead. I am trying to pick up a few cues on how side-on and front-on he opens up, using the angles to get both edges into play. If I can spin one back, he’s probably ready for the one that’s coming back to him. Now, he might wait for the one that might go straight on. These are things you keep in mind. Truth be told, they were both very good deliveries. I saw it again, and I thought I was lucky that I didn’t get them when I was batting.
Your takeaways as a bowler...
Even before I started the game, in the nets I used to be a little sceptical. When I bowled, the balance of the ball was a lot different to the red ball. When you tried to put too many revs, it wasn’t rotating at the seam as much as the red ball. If at all it fell on the seam, it was spinning quite big at that time. It wasn’t responding the way the red ball was responding. Whatever was happening was happening quicker off the surface. It didn’t make a difference. If we played a red-ball game on the same surface, the pace of the game must have been a touch slower. These are things I’m talking about in hindsight.
Was it a good wicket at Motera considering the match got over well inside two days?
I have a question back. What is a good cricket surface? The bowler wants to win the game. The batsman needs to bat well to get runs. No question about it. What makes a good surface? Who defines this? Seam on the first day and then bat well and then spin on the last two days? Come on.
Who makes all these rules. We need to get over it. I don’t see any of the English players having an issue with the surface. They want to improve, they look like they want to have a contest. Is it the players and the people who are reporting back that want their players to not compete and complain about the pitches? Because we have never done that on any of the tours.
Is unpredictable turn one of the reasons why the matches have got over early?
When there is a little advantage for the bowlers, where it swings more or seams more, the margin of error for the batter is so little. Instead of the ball beating the bat, or getting a thick edge, it gets a fine edge and goes to the ’keeper. These are the things we’ve noticed. It happened even at Eden Gardens against Bangladesh [India’s first day-night Test at home] and in New Zealand when England was all out for 69. We got all out for 36 in Australia. When you look at the larger history of Test cricket, you might say these are one-off occasions, but these are a regular affair.
Have the players spoken to the board about their apprehension over playing pink-ball Tests?
There is no apprehension. If there was apprehension, we would have expressed it. This is a new facet that we have introduced to the game. We are used to playing with the red ball. We are conditioned to playing with the red ball, and now all of a sudden, they have got in the pink ball. The pink ball has got a new dimension to the game, so it’s about adapting. You play more and more and get used to it; the players are going to adapt better. The same thing with One-Dayers. We were used to playing with the red ball and then shifted to the white ball. Initially, the white ball was doing a lot. Now, it does nothing. That’s how this format will also evolve. People will learn how it works. Anything new is going to have a lot of challenges.