In a select media Interview, Ravichandran Ashwin answers a bundle of interesting questions based on the historic Australia Test series win. R Ashwin plays a key role in the 3rd Test match which draws in a dramatic way.
He excelled with the ball, picking up 12 wickets and continuously troubled Steve Smith, and restrict him from scoring massive runs.
Ashwin’s Select Media Interview Excerpts
How are you shaping up after the injury?
It was looking good for the fourth Test, it looked like I would play. But there was an unfortunate turn of events. Even pool access was cut. The pool is an important activity in the recovery process.
The physio also felt if the recovery process was in place, there was a good chance to play. It was a freakish injury. After that 1-1 draw, things took a U-turn. The way things happened in Sydney and Brisbane, we had to quarantine.
Sometimes it was questionable. There was insensitivity around people commenting on why we were complaining. The rules were not such. It looked like off the beat. Being the tour it was, we buckled down and put on a good show.
What changed after the first Test? You were more involved and in the ear of the bowlers…
There was no considerable change. It could just be the requirement of the particular day. We had quite a bit of inexperience in the attack. (Mohammed) Siraj was making his debut.
We were 36 all out and we presented ourselves with a wonderful opportunity to turn things around. It is just a natural energy one brings out on the field. There is no larger role I am assuming for myself.
In recent times, your batting has come under criticism. How important was the Sydney knock?
There have been questions raised over my batting since the West Indies tour. But one more thing that needs to go into consideration is I was playing all formats of the game and sometimes roles of people just playing Test cricket alone changes.
I feel when I’ve just been playing Test cricket, it’s pretty much one game here or there and I’m constantly fighting with someone else for the lone spinner slot. And if I have to be judged purely on my batting skills and batting averages then I think an innings or two alone to drop me out of a particular series, I felt wasn’t quite justified.
Is this the best that you have bowled in Australia?
Looking back you can say that but I personally think that this is just another dimension of cricket that I’m seeing myself in. I’ve always maintained that you cannot really say this is the best or anything, you never know something else could lie in front of you.
It didn’t look like I was going to start the series, in all honesty. Because Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja) damaged his hamstring and that is why I got my opportunity in the first Test. For me, things fell in place and I also have been feeling over the last two years I have been bowling well, how it’s come out of the hand.
Did the Aussies underestimate India’s bench strength?
I am not too sure. They got bowled out for 190 in Adelaide. With another hundred runs on the board, even that pink ball Test could have gone either way. I personally think they knew our bowling was going to challenge them all through the series.
I think it is just that the team found ways to bounce back from 36 all out. It’s not quite the bench strength alone that dictated the way the series went. I think every time there was a challenge, somebody in the team raised their bar.
One piece of good fortune, there were new people and fresh legs especially in the bowling department walking in. Sometimes when you’re playing a long series, fresh legs and minds can do the trick.
After the Vizag Test (against SA in 2019) you said, ‘it felt like a debut’. You said the same thing during the Adelaide Test. Despite being at the international stage for more than a decade, do you still feel that you have to prove yourself in every game? Is it justified?
I don’t know if it’s justified. Everybody walks their journey and it’s mine. I have had some wonderful interactions with batting coach Vikram Rathour (a former selector) throughout this series.
He was telling me that they were looking to leave me out after the England series in 2011-12. I asked him ‘was it real?’ because I heard noises about it. He said ‘yes and we didn’t quite think that you were bowling well’.
But I made close to 400 runs in that series and picked up 14-15 wickets. ‘Is that justified for a youngster to be spoken on the same lines’, I asked him. It’s a battle that I always fought. It’s not new territory for me.
My belief is that there will always be someone who will be competing with you. That’s life. I accepted this at a young age.
For me, the competitions have got the best out of me. I have no complaints. I feel whatever I have left ahead of me will also be on the same lines. So I have decided to play every Test like my first. If I can’t be excellent, I should just hang my head down and move on. That’s the way I played my cricket, it won’t be any different in the future.
Duels with Steve Smith… best you ever had in your career?
There has been a lot of noise about how I am bowling and pitting me against someone like Nathan Lyon. During the previous tour in Adelaide, I picked up six wickets and kept on bowling despite a tear in the abdomen.
After the match, there was a comparison between us with suggestions of how well Lyon bowled. I felt it was extremely insensitive towards a good performance. That was the lowest I ever felt in my life after Southampton (2018).
I feel I have been constantly put under the microscope. I did take it upon myself personally. So rather than me competing against Lyon, I thought I must be competing against Smith.
Lyon is a lovely bowler and I have respect for him. But my focus was on something else. There were records that Smith had never got out to spinners in Australia. I wanted to turn that around.
I am entitled to think and probably the best in the world and I wanted to think on those lines. I thought ‘who is the best in the series?’ I can’t compete with Virat Kohli so I decided to compete against Smith.
A lot of people were talking about who will dismiss Smith. But, nobody even gave me a chance. Then, I made sure that people spoke about me at the end of the series.
Lots of pacers coming up. In the spin department, we have you, Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav. After that, there aren’t many knocking on the doors of the Indian team. How do you see that?
Everything is a perception. Ten years ago, people were saying the same about our fast bowling department. 15 years ago, we were talking the same about our batting department.
Once the greats go, what will we do for our next batting reserves? With all due respect to all the legends of the game and the great ones who are still playing in various formats, this will not be the be-all and end-all.
We are a country of 1.4 billion people and when so many people are mad… there will be players who will emerge. I feel a lot of wickets and the way spinners are being dealt with in first-class cricket is not giving the sort of comfort to spinners.
When I came through the first-class ranks, my first captain was S Badrinath and coach was (WV) Raman. The learning I had under them is not the same for spinners coming right now.
I was having a chat with Wasim Jaffer and Amol Muzumdar and that’s one of the reasons. Another thing is the amount of grass and the number of wickets the seamers take… games that finish in the first two days with seamers taking a lot of wickets to throw spinners off guard.
Spinners are someone who emerge because they do a lot of repetition and get a lot of games in FC cricket. If you are taking that away from the spinners and look at them as a T20 commodity, that’s where you will finish them.
I feel there are talents but the way they are dealt with in first-class cricket is not the same as the privilege I had of being mentored by my captain and coach.
Is there a tinge of disappointment about not being made the vice-captain?
I may have been talking about it in a deeper extent in the past if you had asked me this (question) whether it matters or are you a touch disappointed. Honestly speaking, I am not disappointed and it is irrelevant to me.
I go out there and make my own plans and get fields that I want. The captains and vice-captains that I have played with have been very supportive of whatever I have wanted. Leadership is just leading yourself and keeping your space upbeat for any situation that arises.
If you can help another teammate that’s also leadership so it really doesn’t matter because I am lucky to have shared the dressing room with some wonderful players in the past and again sharing the dressing room with some great players like Virat Kohli, Rahane, Pujara.
These are not small names and once I hang up my boots I will realise the significance of sharing the dressing room with such people even more. But I think I’m truly blessed to be playing alongside these guys and sometimes I do think that it can be a tough call on who you want to go as a vice-captain but it is extremely irrelevant to me.
You have been led by Kohli and Rahane. Talk to us about the differences in their style of leadership.
Rahane has led India in about five Tests and Virat Kohli much more and that’s the first difference. I am totally blown away by the kind of comparisons people like to make when it comes to captaincy.
All along it was about MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli and their styles of leadership. People just want to pick on it and just talk about it because it makes the headlines.
Personally, I feel that as a captain your achievements can only be as good as the team that you get. I feel this Indian team has had some wonderful results in the past because of quality players and human beings in the dressing room.
Virat and Rahane have been captain and vice-captain for as long as I can remember now. They lend great balance to the team. As soon as Virat left, it was just an extension and nobody had to tell Jinks how things had to be operated and it was an automatic transition that happened.
For me, it was an extension of what’s been happening in the last 5 years. We have played under Jinks in the Dharamshala Test (Against Oz in 2017) and then the Test against Afghanistan and we know what to expect. When the players know what to expect, things get a lot easier.
I wouldn’t say there is a distinct difference in their style of captaincy. It’s just the people they are. Virat is more expressive, communicative and in your face while Jinks doesn’t do these three things. But the way they captain the side is pretty much similar.
You had mentioned about bowling with a plan to restrict as well as take wickets. So did you buy into that restrictive, leg stump line?
I was given ample freedom to implement whatever plans I had. Nobody came up to me and said what I should be doing or where should I bowl. The homework was completely done by me.
Before each Test, I sat and watched videos for eight hours on the bounce. I made my own plans about where the fielders should be. For example, how Tim Paine got out in Melbourne came from what happened in Adelaide about where the short-leg fielder should be and where the ball might go.
So these are orchestrated plans and the freedom the team management gave me on how I should be working it. Bowling middle or leg stump line or off-stump line is, in my personal view, is not defensive nor attacking. It is just that who you are bowling to is of ample relevance.
If you look at a lot of experts and commentators speaking about off-spin bowling and bowling outside off-stump — the glory they keep talking about — is the most overrated thing in world cricket at this point of time.
Bowling that line especially for someone who has not bowled with a left-arm seamer in my career is the most insignificant thing one can do.
If Moeen Ali or Nathan Lyon is bowling outside off-stump to a glorious plan and Shane Warne is talking beautifully about it in the commentary box, it doesn’t mean I have to do the same thing and wickets will fall. Because he is bowling to Indian batsmen and I’m bowling against English and Aussie batters.
And when I look back at the Southampton Test, where I stand now, the wide off-stump line that Ali bowled, I feel a little disappointed about myself. I should have skinned the cat, the way I skin the cat rather than falling for the trap and monotonously bowling into the rough.
Because it is just not me. As far as I’m concerned, I bowl at other team batsmen not at Indian batters. If I have to bowl at Indian batsman then I may try what Ali or Lyon does.
And sometimes the comparison between Ali and Lyon and myself, I have taken way too personally and it has hurt me and it will remain a hurt as long as I live.
On England series…. and are you looking at the 400-wicket milestone?
Honestly speaking, no! Had you asked me some time ago, I would have said yes. But not now. Once I crossed 200 wickets, I stopped looking at milestones. It just happened over a course of time.
I think the England series is going to be good. They are coming with an amazing preparation in Sri Lanka where the wicket has spun over the last two Tests. Joe Root has been batting beautifully. When we beat them 4-0 last time, they played amazingly but the results did not go in their favour.
We were just too good on a lot of occasions. England are one of the teams who come well-prepared for a Test series. They have got good spinners and good quicks who can reverse the ball. They have got good batting order. What else can you ask for? A hard-fought Test series is surely on the cards.
We have never played two back-to-back Tests at a venue in India. That also gives the touring team an ample time to get used to the conditions. These are new territory that even our team would be looking forward to adapting to.
How important is Natarajan’s success story for Tamil Nadu cricket?
It’s an extremely important story. A lot of people drive through Natarajan‘s journey for different reasons. But I look at it in a very pragmatic way rather than looking at different sorts of reasons that have emerged in the last six months.
It’s an extraordinary journey for a simple reason. I have seen a lot of cricketers emerge from districts and perform well in the junior category, but more often than not those who come from humble backgrounds tend to choose a Railway job or an ICF job over pursuing their professional career.
Natarajan is a stark contrast in that regard. He could have settled down well by taking a Railway or a government job, but Natarajan decided to stay with Chemplast and prolong his professional career. He did well in TNPL and then fetched an IPL contract.
I think it’s only justified given the risk he has taken. You must take the risk in order to be rewarded. He fully deserves all the accolades.