‘Either I take fifers or I get dropped’: R Ashwin opens up on lows and highs of Test career
India spinner Ravichandran Ashwin opens up on the lows and the highs—opening up on the past and also his plans for the future once Indian cricket resumes.Updated: Jul 28, 2020 09:14 IST
R Ashwin, in his own words, has swung between the extremes in Test cricket in the recent past. The year 2019 began with India’s lead spinner being left out of the XI for the historic Sydney Test and he was later benched on the Test tour of the Caribbean as well. But when he got his chance against South Africa at home in October, the 33-year-old off-spinner bounced back with a seven-wicket haul in Vizag, figures that also helped him get to 350 Test wickets in record time.
In an interview, Ashwin speaks of the lows and the highs—opening up on the past and also his plans for the future once Indian cricket resumes. Excerpts.
How have you been keeping fit during the lockdown? How difficult will it be for you to shake off the rust in time for the IPL?
I have been doing exercises at home using some equipment. I have also started bowling a bit in the nets lately. I think cricket is all about adjustments and adaptability. Going to Dubai early and practising there would help. Once the team is there with the coaches, we can prepare well.
How are you feeling before your first season with Delhi Capitals?
I have played for different teams in the IPL. It is the most watched and popular league—so the hysteria is always there. I am thrilled to be a part of the Delhi Capitals. A new team always brings up different challenges. Due to the pandemic, I have not had a chance to interact with any player yet but I’m looking forward to push myself and give my best.
In your previous season with Kings XI Punjab, you spoke of bowling leg-spin as a variation and even tried it out in a few matches. What has come of it?
It is just another variation. I bowled leg-breaks in the last IPL and will be trying my hand (at it) in this edition too.
After IPL, the Test tour to Australia could well be on the cards. Excited about the challenge?
I have always enjoyed my cricket, be it home or abroad. The tour is five months away, so no point of thinking about it now. I like to take it one day at a time. When the challenge comes, I will give my best and hope for an encore. Also, I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Having played 71 Tests and taken 365 wickets shows I have played well for India.
You have played Tests under MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. What are your thoughts on Kohli’s style? What is your rapport with him?
I knew Virat even before he played for India, having played domestic cricket with him. He is somewhat similar to Dhoni when it comes to reading the game, but his style is different. He has done well in the last two to three years. Virat expects a player to dish out match-winning performances consistently, while turning out to be a great match-winner himself.
What does it feel like to sit out of the playing XI in Tests, something that has happened to you a few times outside of India. Does it hurt more now, given that Test is the only format you play for India?
One feels dejected and disappointed when dropped. But that is how sport is. This happens. Take the recent example of Stuart Broad. He was dropped from the first Test against the West Indies and ended up making a great comeback in the next game. I too have swung between those extremes. Either I take five-wicket hauls or I get dropped. I just don’t let the negativity get to me.
How special was it to equal Muttiah Muralitharan’s record of reaching 350 Test wickets in 66 Tests. Considering it was your return after being dropped in the Caribbean series in 2019, it must have been more relieving?
Numbers are not important. Muttiah Muralitharan is a legend with 800 wickets. I don’t even know if I can play the number of matches he has played. It was nice to get noticed but frankly numbers don’t attract me much. Whether it is my return to Test or not, I have always bowled with heart and soul. A good performance always spurs you on.
What was it like to take over from Harbhajan Singh as India’s primary spinner. What were the pressures that came with the mantle?
It is always huge to play for your country. It is an honour and a dream come true for a cricketer, a real landmark. This helped me initially and I settled in the role pretty well. I had also played a lot of domestic cricket by then. There was no pressure as such. I enjoyed playing for India when I got the chance. I never thought I was filling someone else’s shoes. I created my own space as time went by. (Captain) Dhoni also helped me gain confidence by always backing me.
You played a lot of your cricket under Dhoni, whether for India or in the IPL. What has been his influence on your career?
I have been fortunate enough to have played under MS for a long time. He has this quality of giving space to the bowler and let him do his stuff. He gave that freedom, which helped me become a better bowler. His role behind the wickets further helped me peak. Be it T20 or Tests, his cricketing brain was superb. And the way he backs his players is phenomenal.
Do you believe that your white-ball career for India can be reignited?
I like to believe I can play T20s and ODIs for India. I believe in my skills. I would like to take this belief to my grave also that, ‘yes, I can play in all formats’. Last season, I did pretty well for KXIP and I feel there is a lot of white-ball cricket left in me. I am always hopeful and up for the challenge.
But being a Tests-only player at the moment, you must be thrilled with BCCI’s decision to protect players like you Ishant Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara with central contracts.
Yes. The ECB and CA do it too. This sends out a very healthy message that Tests are being taken very seriously. BCCI acknowledges this and has therefore adopted such a policy.
How is it bowling alongside India’s great pace attack. Earlier India would rely on their spinners to win Tests on Days 4 and 5. But now all the pacers—Ishant, Bumrah, Shami— share your burden.
India’s pacers are doing well at the world stage, including at home. We have also seen a change in the way pitches are prepared in India now. Unlike the way the pitches were earlier, they have something in it for the pacers now. Bumrah’s rise has been sharp. Credit goes to him for how he has performed and helped India win matches home and away. It is a wonderful transition for Indian cricket. Having pacers as match-winners is always great. It is always commendable to have such pacers and I enjoy bowling alongside them.
You are in your 30s with very few things left to achieve. What keeps you motivated?
The will to do well for my country. I take a lot of pride and am honoured to play for India. As long as I can serve India, I will continue to feel super. Also, I still enjoy being on the field and being competitive.
Talking numbers, where do you see yourself finishing once it is all over? 500 wickets? Or even more than Anil Kumble’s 619?
Honestly, I don’t believe in this numbers game. I don’t plan like that. Hats off to Anil Kumble for what he achieved. But my journey is different. I would like to take life as it comes. I am happy to have crossed the 350-wicket mark in Tests and feel very proud of it. It would be an honour to play for India as long as I can. That’s more important.
Which moment in your career do you cherish the most? And how would you like to be remembered once it is over?
Actually, there are two moments. One, winning the World Cup in 2011. The second has to be when we beat Australia in Bengaluru in a Test back in 2017. We levelled the four-match series at 1-1. It was wonderful to take a five-wicket haul at a crucial juncture and get to the win. Well, I would like people to remember me as a bowler who played attractive cricket and gave the batsmen a tough time. Nothing more.