Ashwin: 'Intense Kumble's guidance has really helped'

"The thing with Anil is he is very intense and I am also bit of an intense character. So we really hit it off. We had a lot of interesting conversations and shared notes."

R. Ashwin won his sixth Man of the Series award on the West Indies tour.   -  AP

Sportstar caught up with R. Ashwin after his series-winning performance in the West Indies.



Excerpts

You won your sixth Man of the Series award, setting an Indian record. Your thoughts on it…

I’m very happy to beat some Indian greats to that milestone. I did not set out to do it. I wanted to play one game for India, be it any format. For a while I had been living a youngster’s dream. But ever since I have had this hunger to be excellent as a cricketer, my only goal has been to be the best I can be.



You batted at six. Was it something you wanted or the team management’s decision?

I haven’t really set myself a number. [But] I definitely believed I was capable of batting higher. I was batting really well in NZ in the ODIs but after that I lost my way due to the tennis elbow. I had to doubly work hard to get going again. This time I worked hard without expecting results, not showing disappointment. It has now yielded results.

Ravi Shastri has maintained I tend to be a bit loose batting at eight but what people don’t realise is at eight, I have to play loose shots to score runs. I wanted to bat sessions and it has not been easy because I have not batted up the order since my under-19 days. I have worked on it earnestly and put my mind over matter.



Did the coach or the captain make the call?

I don’t know. Virat [Kohli] called me on the morning after the toss saying I will bat ahead of [Wriddhiman] Saha. It was good in a way as I did not have a lot of time to think about.



Was the hundred in the third innings your best knock, considering the team was 87 for four?

The St. Lucia hundred was special because it was very difficult. It was boring cricket. The balls were not great and were going softer. The wicket was spongy. It was old fashioned cricket waiting for the loose balls. I thought I should praise myself for the way I batted.



Were there any specific modifications you made to your technique?

For starters, my stance was side-on and I had to open up. I quite enjoyed being side-on because you could play late and play towards square. But I had to change because I was playing one too many shots outside the off-stump. I had to open it up to play straighter. Before leaving, I spoke to V.V.S. Laxman who made runs in the last tour in 2011.

I think he is bit of a hands player like me. He was telling me drives weren’t fetching him runs and he had to rely on late cuts and flicks. We had a long chat and I played a lot of percentage cricket.



A year ago, before the Sri Lanka series, you said you were on top of your game as a bowler. Has that confidence helped you focus more on batting?

It is interesting… I haven’t really worked that much on both skills at the same time. I tend to take time off bowling on a break and work on my batting. When I go to the camp with the Indian team, I bowl a lot and reduce my batting load. It is difficult to manage both simultaneously. I have been working extremely hard on my fitness because that’s the only thing that will keep me going.

In the past, my bowling has helped me in my batting. But this time it was a clear case of trying to isolate both. What tends to happen is when you get a five wicket haul, you feel like you can get a hundred but play one too many shots. It was clear in my mind I wanted to keep both skills isolated so that I can really focus and stick to a game plan.



Any coaches you worked with during the off-season?

I worked little bit with Jaykumar at Chemplast on things like my batting grip.



Was he the one who suggested that you change the stance?

It was actually suggested by Sanjay Bangar and Jay seconded. I have to give a lot of credit to Sanjay because he has been the one who has been working on my game for the past eight to ten months. I worked with Jay for eight to ten days before I left. Both of them deserve a lot of credit.



Your first series with the new coach, a spinner at that. How was it?

Anil [Kumble] clearly told me about the challenges in terms of conditions. He asked me to be patient. In the first Test after I got a hundred, I did not get a decent spell of bowling. But he knew it could really irk me. He kept on assuring me and told me how it was difficult to get my body going because I was tired.

The thing with Anil is he is very intense and I am also bit of an intense character. So we really hit it off. We had a lot of interesting conversations and shared notes. There were times when we did not agree but there was always an open conversation. I could say I did not agree and Anil is such a person who will listen and come back with a different suggestion. I have always believed that if your questions get answered you become a cricketer. Somebody who is willing to answer and even learn in the process like Anil will definitely help.



How do you plan to prepare for the home season?

I'll just try and carry some momentum from where I left off in West Indies, and try and see how much I can utilise that bowling and batting form going into the next series. But the thing about international cricket is that it'll bring you back very quickly to sub-zero level. So, you have to be really calm, consistent, and stay focused all through. Every game should be taken afresh and you should be able to manage your body well. So, I'm looking forward to this season but I'm not having any plans in terms of what will happen. Seriously, I've heard of people talking about processes and all that but I've genuinely started understanding what process is all about.



What are your thoughts on the England series? The last time they were here was not a great one for you.

You'll have to agree that some teams do come and play good cricket. They played good cricket. So, yes, a lot of people could've ideally made me the villain for that series as well but I batted really well in that series to look back. I don't think I was dismissed a whole lot of times. I made a couple of 90s, a 50, and all that. I did get about 13-14 wickets. Those were inexperienced days. I mean, I'll try and not look back at that series and take anything forward, but I will try and take the learnings from that series and go ahead.



You tried leg spin in the Florida T20. Do you think bowlers will need to go down this path especially in T20?

I surely think that is how it is going to be. I have no doubts about it. People might tend to disagree with me but that's where the game is headed. More often than not whenever I've called something, it's happened in the future. So, people have always vilified me for that but trust me that’s how the game is going to be. See, when T20 started people said they are looking for multi-dimensional cricketers. I'm telling you, this also is going to be a part of the multi-dimension. You want to be a bowler, you have to do it. There will be a time when people would want you to bowl medium pace as well.