‘Like they say, world spins and everything will spin around. It’s only a matter of time as more often than not Indian cricket is built mostly on perceptions.’ R Ashwin was on the verge of a monologue a year after being dropped from the Indian LOI side but his assertion was not off the mark.
India had found a new-found love for wrist-spin bowling and with Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal picking wickets in an uncanny fashion, Ravichandran Ashwin and his long-time partner-in-crime Ravindra Jadeja became a luxury the side couldn’t afford anymore. Everyone and their pet dog were raving about the leg-spinning duo, forgetting the success India had with the two orthodox spinners in the squads - starting from the time Harbhajan Singh was India’s mainstay.
It was possibly a representation of the changing guard in Indian cricket, with Virat Kohli now having a certain Ravi Shastri for the company in the backroom who was hell-bent for the change after Chahal picked up a six-fer against England in Bangalore in February 2017. In all the euphoria, Ashwin turned to become a Test specialist and not deemed good enough for white-ball cricket, which was ironic because his claim to fame was the shortest format back in the 2010 Indian Premier League and Champions League T20 thus after. Nevermind, Ashwin was still not a commodity but rather a force in the long race, as proven umpteen times in the Indian Premier League after that.
In the Asia Cup 2018, Jadeja was roped in as a replacement for Hardik Pandya mid-way through the tournament but not Ashwin who was definitely a better wicket-taking and run-containing option than the left-arm spinner at that point in time. An economy rate of 6.88 in T20 cricket that too bowling mostly in the powerplay and that too being an off-spinner is just what a great bowler is all about but India were too rigid about their plans. ‘Compromising on their ego’ might be too harsh a phrase.
Before delving into the statistics and the uppity the Chennai boy deserves, these things need to be repeated and told multiple times because often the generation of cricket fans, with a short attention span, forget the simple fact that a hero doesn’t die as a villain if there is a new hero in the neighbourhood. It is a peripheral tendency where cricket has mostly been squandered within a box of improbabilities and relative ‘truth’ with the fans and at times, selectors deeming the modern innovations and hardcore facts to mere opinions, and mostly, a matter of conjecture.
In the last couple of editions in the Indian Premier League, this has been the case of Ashwin. He bowls in the powerplay, bowls in the middle-overs, bowls at the death even and yet you wouldn’t find him strangled in a box of tricks. By his own admission, he is not the most talented off-spinner around but one who adds a lot of method to his process, ensuring his spells keep the opposition in check quite successfully. An ER of 7.32 at an average of 25.2 since the last IPL is the indicator of the same and a proof of how effective he can be if used properly.
For someone, whose career has been a case study for how to be innovative in the world of theatrics, Ashwin represents real over surreal. He is practical, asks a lot of questions and, sometimes, can come across as a grumpy man, masked within his own ego-sized hole. But underneath, you see a fierce competitor far away from the orthodox Indian mindset who is ready to do the same with his bowling. You see him turning up for Delhi Capitals this season, smartly attired with the Blue Jersey, and bowling his side to the zone he wants and that was the side of Ashwin India failed to notice for the major part of the last half a decade.
This is not an attempt to discredit the leg-spinning revolution in the world - for Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal in India, a Shadab Khan in Pakistan, Imran Tahir in South Africa, Rashid Khan in Afghanistan, Adil Rashid in England or Adam Zampa in Australia have emerged as the hope of future generation and a balancing act for the contest between bat and ball. But the revolution can’t get simpler if you, as I mentioned earlier, go on a unilateral movement and not take the peripheral substance that has always yielded you success to account. Remember, even an off-spinner like Harbhajan Singh became an invaluable commodity for two straight seasons in the Chennai Super Kings line-up after being released by Mumbai Indians ahead of the 2018 season.
Ashwin is that player who not only brings a sense of identity with his never-say-die attitude but always brings in value and an opportunity in the direst of situations. It is a simple matter of competitiveness that allows him running the batsman out at the non-striker’s end without remorse and remember, if the dismissal becomes mainstream, Ashwin will be remembered as a pioneer far bigger than the legendary Indian who first effected the dismissal against Bill Brown in Sydney for the first time in international cricket.
But if Ashwin comes to be remembered only as a terrific Test cricketer, who gave his all each time he has a ball in hand, and for that run-out, it would be a shame because he is no donkey with the white-ball. That is, however, a threat that always looms over the legacy which he will leave behind because, in the age of social media and instant gratification, society has become a pound-for-pound challenge from one IPL to another. No one remembers the past and no one remembers you once you move away from the public consciousness. But for those who followed the craft and understood the stoicism, you will be stoked for a redefined future that will have a full chapter on Ravichandran Ashwin, the magnificent white-ball cricketer.