IPL 2019, CSK vs KXIP: Ashwin’s homecoming at Dhoni’s citadel
Nothing compares to how Chennai reacts to the sight of MS Dhoni, but R Ashwin is probably more hardwired into the city’s cricket and social fabric. Dhoni will always be their thala but Ashwin is Chennai’s son, which entitled the off-spinner to brag last year that he ‘literally owns that space around Chepauk’.
A Rajinikanth fan, Ashwin has over the years unabashedly celebrated all things Chennai. Like in 2017, when he tweeted in support of the peaceful protests demanding the reversal of a court ban on jallikattu – the traditional bull-taming sport – although he was criticised by animal rights activists.
When Ashwin went out to bat in the final session on the first day of the 2015 Delhi Test against South Africa, he had not heard from his parents for over 24 hours due to the devastating Chennai floods. Series won and the Man-of-the-Series pouched after taking 31 wickets, Ashwin quickly tweeted: “Happiness got the better of me, I would like to dedicate my man of the series to the ppl suffering from the Chennai floods.”
To think a man of such passion would turn up against his own city sounds all wrong. But such has been the nature of IPL. Mumbai was spared the dilemma with Sachin Tendulkar, but seven seasons back, Kolkata was asked to choose between team and son when Sourav Ganguly turned up in blue as the captain of the now-defunct Pune Warriors. On a sultry day in May, Eden Gardens was painted purple but also screamed ‘Dada, Dada’.
Unlike Ganguly, Ashwin’s IPL association with his home ground was longer and more decorated. Equally significant and rewarding was his relationship with Dhoni. A 10-year ride that started with opening the bowling under Dhoni’s careful supervision extended to a two-year association at Rising Pune Supergiants, before Kings XI Punjab bought him after a bidding war with Chennai Super Kings. A Super King was lost but Ashwin is living the dream of leading a team. Who better than Dhoni to show off his leadership skills to?
The biggest question though is how Chepauk will receive Ashwin. Is there going to be slight awkwardness in Ashwin when he shows up in red amid a sea of yellow on Saturday? Dhoni might grin but the competitor in Ashwin is bound to relish every bit of nervous energy that comes with stepping into Chepauk. “I feel the air talks to me,” Ashwin had famously said after dismantling Australia with a 12-wicket haul in the 2013 Test.
For the first time in his playing career, Chepauk could make him feel otherwise.