Ravichandran Ashwin says he ‘prides in being a fierce competitor’. Considering the challenge that the veteran of 111 ODIs and 65 Tests has faced from the younger Indian spin brigade in recent times, he has to be competitive to stay in the race.
The 32-year-old Ashwin was last seen in ODI colours in June 2017 and has not made it to the World Cup squad despite being a top choice for Tests. In the IPL, however, he has led Kings XI Punjab from the front, being their top bowler with 14 wickets in 12 matches and an economy rate of 7.21.
Whether or not Ashwin’s KXIP reaches the play-offs depends a lot on the results of the last two league games. Ahead of the crucial fixtures, Ashwin talks to Hindustan Times on his bowling, his views on wrist-spin, as well as tackling disappointments as captain.
What is working for you this season, experience or variations?
If you look at my IPL career, it’s been a bit up and down. A fair lot of it has been due to the amount I have bowled in the last few years. I didn’t bowl (full quota of) four overs in many of those games. Whereas last year and this year, I have bowled more (after coming to Kings XI Punjab). Last year, I was pretty economical but a spinner needs to keep reinventing himself. I like to do new things, learn new things and am not afraid of trying different things because T20 is one format where the bowlers need to contend with the fact that they will get hit. Getting hit is a part and parcel of the game but you should be a fierce competitor, which I am, and I really pride myself in that.
Your good show as an off-spinner comes at a time when the perception is that wrist-spinners are more attacking options.
When you say it’s a perception, it is related to a group of people who believe in it. It’s always going to happen because people will have to make decisions, whoever they are. The decision makers will have to pride themselves in the kind of decisions they make. If that (wrist-spinners being more attacking) is a perception, I would definitely take it upon myself to break that because all I can do is perform as best as I can.
When T20 started, everybody said the spinners had no role. Then they said that the wrist-spinners do really struggle because they can’t land the ball accurately. If you ask me, right now some of the most inconsistent bowlers are the most successful ones in T20 format because landing the ball in similar spots is not fetching a lot of rewards. So, in my opinion, the wheel has gone from A to B and it will again come from B to A . It’s just a cycle, it is going to keep changing.
Who is the best spinner in the IPL so far?
Once I have become an expert and I am paid for it, I would do that job (assess other spinners). But right now, I would like to think that I am right up there and I have been for a long time now. It’s my 11th season of the IPL, so I would like to think I have done a fairly good job. I have never shied away from competing with anyone. I am right on top of the pile. But look, there are going to be people who will be better than you and you will be overtaken at some stage.
You said you are open to reinventing. How do you do that?
In one way or the other, MS Dhoni has played a critical part in (developing) that thinking of mine because I have taken lot of flak from a lot of experts and cricketers for being a little too innovative, trying to do a lot of things and trying new things. As a cricketer I have also gone through the phase of trying to be rudimentary, bowling the stock balls. MS has always maintained that my strength has been being innovative, being the person who always reinvents the wheel and that has stuck in my head.
I would like to see the batsmen struggling and not picking me. (Reinventing is) generating a lot of options in terms of varying my line, my length, my speed, variations off the pitch and in the air and my action. There are so many things that you can work on as a bowler. Sometimes it’s the fear of losing what you have that does not allow you to reinvent your game.
You are in your second year of captaincy in IPL.
I have gone about my job the way I need to go about it even if I was not playing as captain. For me, it’s all about building a good team culture. Trying what this franchise stands for. That’s exactly what I have been trying to do and I have been successful in a lot of ways. We are no pushovers anymore and we have really played some exciting cricket right from the last season.
We have made our own cricketers. Mayank Agarwal has gone on to play for India, KL Rahul has also played top cricket. So, we have fair amount of firepower on display.
What about disappointments?
It is very important to lead from the front and give as much confidence as possible to all the cricketers. I want to be the sort of fiery example that you can set for other people also. I have given them enough chances to explore themselves. At the end of the day, you have to put the responsibility on everybody. It’s important to give the players freedom and take a back seat.
For all franchises, you are mostly judged on your results. That’s the way of the modern world. But to get the results, you have to tick every box. It’s that stage where every two points are a massive boost for the teams and we will be looking to go all out. For us every game from now on is a knock out game.
KXIP batting is too dependent on Chris Gayle and Rahul…
You can’t really say that, though the bulk of the scoring has been done by them. But there is Mayank. (David) Miller has about 150 runs. Nicholas Pooran has come in and played nicely. Sarfaraz (Khan) has 200 runs at an average of 49. We have been consistent about the way we have bowled or batted. We haven’t really closed out some of the matches and that really is the difference in IPL. I really take pride in how we have performed. We believe we can (enter the play-offs).