Ashwin: I take challenges head-on

It has been an incredible year for R. Ashwin. As 2015 ends, the man, who shaped India’s rousing Test series triumphs in Sri Lanka and against the visiting South Africans, remains his unassuming self. Enjoying a well-deserved break, the off-spinner spoke extensively to Sportstar, about a year he will remember for a long time.

:The way 2015 has panned out is excellent but the one notion inside me is always that it is not about holding on to your position but it is always about wanting to excel and in that regard I have done well for myself," Ashwin says.   -  S. R. Raghunathan

It has been an incredible year for R. Ashwin. As 2015 ends, the man, who shaped India’s rousing Test series triumphs in Sri Lanka and against the visiting South Africans, remains his unassuming self. The 62 wickets over these 12 months that forged a winning path for Virat Kohli’s men in whites, the current high on the ICC Test rankings (bowling, 1; all-rounder, 1) and the accolades, sit easy on him.

Enjoying a well-deserved break, the off-spinner spoke extensively to Sportstar, about a year he will remember for a long time.

Excerpts

Question: At the beginning of 2015, did you set any goals and as the year ends, have you fulfilled them?

Ashwin: In the beginning of 2015 I was very clear that I needed to be a permanent fixture in the team. I was at the crossroads. The way 2015 has panned out is excellent but the one notion inside me is always that it is not about holding on to your position but it is always about wanting to excel and in that regard I have done well for myself.

How does it feel to be the leading Indian bowler for the entire year and also be at the top of the charts, like the ICC rankings for instance?

The best thing about all this is when I close my eyes in the night I am able to sleep. If you can eat well and sleep well, that’s the best thing. I am quite a simple person. If you take cricket and family out of my life, I don’t think I can do much. The point is if anybody throws a challenge at me I take it heads-on and I like to come out on top.

What is the difference between the Ashwin, who bowled against the visiting England team in 2012 and the Ashwin, who dominated against Sri Lanka and South Africa now?

It is quite a lot (of difference) in terms of skill, technical attributes, awareness and of having grown as a cricketer. The learning from the mistakes I did against England, was something I had no idea of, although people said I am bowling a lot of variations and that I am not bowling enough of my stock ball. I think you will hear these clichés for years.

Is it a stereotype?

I am trying to fight the stereotype. The world runs behind successful people and if I am successful then the world will think I am right. Let us just say X is speaking about me and he is saying ‘he is bowling too many variations.’ In the past, people have gone to that person in order to probably correct that opinion. I think it is a bit of a weakness. I embarked on a very different journey. I wanted to accept what was wrong with my bowling, accepting what is wrong can be a big hit on the ego but I am not a very egoistic person. I understood my bowling, my mistakes and came to terms with the fact that I needed to change. When you are ready the master arrives and for me the right person arrived.

 

Who was the right person?

Ravi Shastri (team director) and Bharat Arun (bowling coach). There is no one right person and they have come and guided me, and probably (in the future) there will be another person, who will push me forward.

How supportive is Virat Kohli?

The best part of Virat is that he is an excellent cricketer and motivates the entire team. He wants everybody to be a Dale Steyn, be the best batsman, be the best bowler, best fielder and that attitude helps. Predominantly when you see Indian leaders, they want to be on top and as for people under them, they want them to be there. But Virat wants to pull people to his level, that is a phenomenal quality.

Are you in the zone?

Probably! It is about cues. It is about watching videos and doing your homework before the match. Once that is done, you have the pieces in place and when you are bowling it is about mental and physical cues. When I start, I start at this pace of my run-up, make sure that my left-arm goes high as possible, my wrist position is fine and for a period of six to 10 balls I settle in into my rhythm and if in that process I get a wicket then I become doubly lethal!

Is there any wicket you cherish over the last few months?

AB de Villiers in Nagpur. He was moving outside the off-stump may be to negate the LBW. I kept on bowling outside the off-stump, dragging him and then I bowled a couple of off-spin on the stumps. Now he was a bit jittery. He had to play the balls at his stumps, so then I came in wide of the crease and angled one in, the

carrom ball and it hit him in line with the off-stump. It was a victory for strategy and it was planned over 12 to 15 deliveries.

What are the facets you want to improve upon?

I want to spin the ball both ways, leg-spin is something I embarked upon a few years ago. I think it is coming out well. Probably there is enough time to work on a surprise (delivery). I want to become one of the best all-rounders in the limited overs game. Looking at my own career, I see no reason why I cannot achieve that.

Your thoughts on the Australia tour…

If we win, it will be very good and if we don’t we know what we will get (in terms of criticism). It will give an idea of the limited-overs combination that Australia will provide and these battles will always happen.

Ashwin the batsman…

I always put a price on my wicket. Over the last year I have had a bit of tennis elbow and whatever runs I got has been entirely due to grit. I am a hands-player and my tennis elbow has hampered my hands-feel. But it is definitely getting better.

What about CSK missing the IPL?

CSK is an asset of Chennai but if people say I am not going to play for any other team other than Chennai, it is not going to come from me. The game is what I love, I will turn out for any cricket team and play with sincerity. Hopefully two years later when Chennai gets the team, I will get a chance, probably come back as a leader.

How difficult was it to invest yourself in the Delhi Test (against South Africa) when Chennai was flooded and you lost touch with your parents for a while?

I spoke to my parents about two days ago (before the match) and I was talking to them on FaceTime and I saw water just getting into the house. What really stood out for me then was how the community stood up. When I step onto the ground, forget about anybody else in my life, if there are two people, who want me to play the game, even if they themselves didn’t exist, it had to be my parents. Even if I didn’t hear about them for five days, I would have played because that is what they would have wanted from me.