He said he is looking forward to trying to contribute alongside Rahul and being of use to the team in any way possible.
Before being recalled into India’s T20 squad for the ICC T20 World Cup, the last time Ravichandran Ashwin played in India’s blues was way back in July 2017. No wonder then, that the veteran offspinner was rolling his arm over in the pre-match warm-ups as soon as the team walked out on the park since its tournament-opener versus Pakistan.
Besides, Ashwin was playing for India for the first time since the World Test Championship, having been benched right through the Test series in England.
Thanks to a calf strain to Varun Chakravarthy, Ashwin finally got an opportunity versus Afghanistan on Friday. After marking his comeback with a flawless spell of 2/14 off his four overs, Ashwin, the articulate speaker, on Thursday opened up on his prolonged wait in a press conference. Edited excerpts:
Can you just tell us how it was to actually get a game for India in blues after like four years, and considering the peculiar situation the team finds itself in?
The news that I got selected in the World Cup was very heartening. I had the fun after hearing the news in terms of enjoying myself and gratification of what I wanted to achieve in life. So, that was one side of it. I had some special dreams getting into the World Cup, wanting to do special things for the team. After a point in time, more than trying to prove anybody else right or wrong, it’s more about trying to prove it to yourself and also have something to achieve for the team.
Unfortunately, after the first two losses, I did feel a bit low about it and wasn’t a special feeling. It’s never a special feeling when you lose games. Maybe the chance of qualification took a bit of a dent. But after yesterday’s win, we still do have our fingers crossed and hope things go right. Barring that, it was quite a special night. Everything I wanted to execute fell in place. Yeah, it was a special night for me.
For a proven performer like you, how difficult it is to keep motivated after sitting out because of team combination? How does a champion player like you cope with such a prolonged absence, which is not your fault?
Fortunately, I believe life is a circle. For some people it’s a small one. For some people it’s a large one, which is definitely not in our hands. For me, understanding the battles in my life and career is something I have done very well over the last couple of years.
Whenever I’ve had a very good stretched pattern of good form, or whenever it’s been the other way, I once had some deep ridges to go through, I’ve had to go through some long periods of lull. I don’t want to read too much into it as to why those lulls have happened, but definitely that’s a pattern I have embraced in my life.
So staying humble through good periods and success is a statement a lot of people make and a lot of people in my fraternity make, but I’ve firmly embraced it, and I’ve lived it. I believe success, like on one side you get success in cricket 30% of the time in your career and fortune is also important at some stage of this career. Who am I? I’m no different. So I embrace it.
The easiest way to put up with it and go through a professional circle like that is to keep preparing, keep working hard, expecting an opportunity will just turn up at your doorstep one day. And when it happens, you’ve got all the options to break open doors and break open latches and locks. That’s what life is all about.
So for those days, keep preparing like that day will come. It’s very easy to lose motivation and lose hope and close those doors and just hide behind it and keep complaining, but that’s something that I definitely will not do.
For me, it’s not about what the game has given me, it’s about what I’ve given the game and how much I enjoy playing the game. You put three stumps anywhere and ask me to play a game at this stage of my life, I would do it with most happiness.
As a spinner, how do you keep that balance between picking wickets and ensuring the run rate doesn’t go away?
I am making an attempt, for a lot of people who are actually consuming this game and also giving expert opinions on the game, I sometimes feel sorry for them because I’ve been playing this format from the year 2017, and every few years, the game leaves our realms and teaches us something because the game is so fast paced people are trying to get that 1% advantage through various technologies that’s presenting itself.
I feel the understanding of the game is still backward in so many ways. For me, when you call upon a bowler and say he’s got to pick wickets, they’re talking about lengths. For fastballers, there are different player plans. For spinners, there are different plans. And there are certain lengths that a bowler cannot afford to bowl like he bowls in a test match, especially for a spinner.
Most often than not, wicket-taking is something that’s seen as something that just happens, but it’s not like that. A lot of experts and wise men who have played the game say that cricket is a game of partnerships. For every wicket that a bowler is picking, there’s an over that’s been bowled before or after that’s created that wicket. So we need to understand that. And every wicket that falls through a middle over is the result of a few dot balls played by a batter or bowled by another bowler.
I think I expect too much from people watching the game, but this is exactly how I play the game. I cannot shirk my responsibility of bowling dot balls or bowling economically, but in the process, if I’m getting wickets, I’m getting wickets. I also need to keep in mind the interest of the team and what the team expects from me at that particular ball.
There are 24 events I get in a game, and these are cliche terms used by people inside the team and outside the team as well, but I take it very seriously. 24 events, and I need to win every event. And what is a victory? That victory is directly in relation to what my team needs. It’s not what I need.
It’s easy for me to throw the ball up looking for a wicket, but remember every T20 game is won by a margin of two runs or won by a margin of one ball or two balls. So I need to keep that in mind every single ball that I bowl.
You spoke about life and going in circles. After more than four years, yesterday two conventional finger spinners played once again for India in a game in limited overs. Would you say that it was the completion of a circle?
I don’t know. Circles are never completed. They keep going in loops. I can’t really say the circle has come around and all that.
The perception of finger spin needs to change, I think. Ever since 2017 I was going through a very good phase of my test career, and I felt like I was bowling amazing stock balls at that point in time. I didn’t require anything else to be doing at that stage.
But like I said, the circles stop. There are stations at every single place, and that Champions Trophy final was one of those stations where I had to halt and think about my career. Ever since, I’ve evolved as a T20 bowler. I’ve bowled a lot more deliveries than there are people that are terming them as cannonballs and off-spin and arm balls. But those are very subtle. I’m trying to create different angles to create different seam positions.
The ball on which that I dismissed Gulbadin Naib yesterday was anything but a cannonball. So I’ve worked on it. I’ve got so many more options than what I used to have at that particular point of time.
When I bowl to a right hander, I think like a left-handed spinner or a leg spinner. When I bowl to a left-hander, I think like an off spinner. So thinking creates the intent and the intent eventually translates into practice and then goes into a game.
There is a lot of work gone in there. It’s just the conception of what I do needs to change.
How are you seeing Rahul Dravid’s appointment as the head coach of India’s cricket team?
I think Rahul has got immense depth of knowledge and good wishing for anything he has done in life. He has got an amazing vision, somebody who is done the hard years, I would say. In times when people, for having played the game at the highest level, believe that they can contribute to teams through being coaches.
Rahul Dravid has gone through the journey and the grind of being in TNCA, going through the Indian team. I think he knows what’s in store, what’s in the future, who’s playing right now. He’s played with some of us inside this dressing room. He also knows all the young boys.
If there is anyone where you can pull every bit of knowledge you can pull from, it’s Rahul. I am really looking forward to trying to contribute alongside Rahul and being of use to the team in any way possible.
After securing two points against Afghanistan, what are the talks within the dressing room about qualification scenarios?
I think there are hardly any discussions with regards to that because the discussion we need to have is how we’re going to go about the couple of games we have left, and everyone’s planning and wanting to go on a real high for the last two games. That is stuff that’s not in our control. It’s fingers crossed.
It’s a funny game, and Afghanistan have played good cricket. A lot of our hopes rest with them as well. All the very best to them. I really wish if we could provide any physio support to them to play well in the park, and that is all we can hope for. They’ve played good cricket. Pakistan have played wonderful cricket. We just have fallen short of what we want in the first two games.
That’s where we find ourselves in the table. That’s T20 cricket. Very quick to come back in a tournament like this when you’ve games like that. We want to finish really well.
Can you talk about the importance of family for you over the last year?
I think with respect to family travelling during the tournament, one of the funny things I heard, like some of my friends and acquaintances, they still don’t get the life of a bubble. They actually think bubble means we are living in a hotel and playing the games. They want to meet.
So we don’t get to see other people at all. In fact, we live amongst ourselves. We live within rooms just trying to create some environment that we are communicating with each other and trying to play a few team building games here and there, and that is all we’ve been doing for the last eight months or ten months.
Without my family, I would struggle so much. I continue to owe a lot to them. Many times when the team loses, they put pictures of family going out and all that, people go after us saying, what are you doing? You’re on holiday with your family and all that. We’re hardly on a holiday.
The time we come back to the room, we’ve had a good day or bad day, family is the only place we can lean on. They’ve played more than a small role in what’s happened in the last eight months.
Yes, we’ve had some great results. We’ve had not so great results, but those are what happens on the field. Off the field, we are also human beings, and we also have a family. We need to have that sort of space and cushion to go out there and play the next day. I’m extremely thankful to my wife and to my kids for having done this.
Yeah, I’m sure most of the other players who have their family here feel the same well.