At the age of 19, he earned his first cap as a Tamil Nadu cricketer, having come through the toughest of grinds as a pacer in the Tamil Nadu setup. But after injuries and self-doubt took three years away from the game he loved, Aswin’s endless grind has once again put him back to where he started.
He picks the call, soft-spoken as ever, answers humbly that he will always look to the game as a getaway in life. Having been on the ropes for the longest time owing to injury, Aswin Crist endured the tough yards of the game, right when he was about to make a genuine breakthrough as one of the best pacers in the country with Tamil Nadu.
The story is well-known and well documented in the erst but to imagine it as a layman living in 2020, the right-arm quick was supposed to be making his comeback earlier in the year. That coupled with the pandemic and the entire nation going into lockdown and a state of frenzy, Aswin Crist was finally picked to be part of the Tamil Nadu squad for the first time since his injury, precisely 2 years and six months later.
“The most frustrating part is to watch others play and undergo the rehabilitation process, where we have to work for six days a week and keep repeating the same process for two years was a tough thing. It made me mentally a bit more tired,” Aswin said, in a conversation with SportsCafe.
“I will tell the most important thing, the diagnosis part is the most crucial part with injuries, that was actually what kept me away from the game for two years. I felt that was the part that we missed out in my case and that is the most important part. If you find what and where the issue is, it will be easier to deal with it. That’s what I feel about injuries,” he added.
During enduring times, it is pertinent for one to switch off their game and their own self from the outer world, especially with people pestering him over his daily bread but Aswin had none of it - he believed and trusted the process of how he fell in love with the sport in the first place.
“My aim in the lockdown was not to let my fitness down. Once the lockdown started, my motive was to keep the fitness levels high and regarding my skill set; I used to do my bowling drills at home, and I used to go out for a run,” he reinstated.
“People around me would keep asking me about the injuries whenever they meet me, it made me better as a person actually. I responded to them better after a few days because I was able to understand from their perspective as well. It made me humble, there will be so many things expecting stuff from you, I learnt how to deal with it,” he added.
For a pacer who shifted to Chennai at a very young age, the signs were never going to be as pleasing as it would be as a spinner - especially due to the conditions on offer. But an unperturbed love for pace, propelled by having witnessed Lakshmipathy Balaji in close quarters, helped Aswin make a real life-choice of becoming a pacer - and he succeeded rather quickly, living upto his dream and words.
“When I was 10 years old, we shifted to Chennai and my dad used to take me to Test matches. Once we were playing Australia at Chepauk, I came with my dad to watch the practice session. I was watching him play and bowl and before that he played well in the Pakistan series. He’s my favourite cricketer from Tamil Nadu more than anyone. From there, coming to Chennai, playing cricket in Chennai and getting to play with him was such a big thing for me. I look up to him and he talks so well, I can ask him anything about cricket.”
But the last time he donned the Tamil Nadu jersey, he knew how to breathe fire and take an ice-calm approach before bowling. However, it wasn’t as easy as waking up overnight and playing for the pacer, who had to endure a gradual process, which lasted eight-weeks before he was finally fit to resume in full throttle.
“Return to bowling phase was a bit gradual for me, it is a very gradual process, about the eight-week process. First two weeks will be just short run-up bowling and then half-run up bowling before full-length recovery. More than what the trainer or the physio says, we have to listen to our body, that’s the biggest advice Bala anna (Lakshmipathy Balaji) gave me. My surgeon was also of the same opinion,” he expressed.
“India Cements and Tamil Nadu Cricket Association in the last two years, they have provided me everything. They were the backbone after my parents, I haven’t played a single club game for them in two years and despite that, they always back me. Every time I see Kasi sir and Palani sir, they just ask me to take my time, not to rush and come back slowly. It was a big boost for me to be trusted in this manner,” he thanked TNCA and India Cements for their immense contribution to his return from injury.
Having grown up in the city from the age of ten, Aswin belonged to the best of cricketing teams in the city but success eluded him, as his team was handsomely beaten by DAV Mogappair’s U-13 side who had aced the occasion. Two of the best cricketers in that age group during that cricketing period, the twins - Baba Aparajith and Indrajith were leading the charge for the opponents, who outclassed them on that certain day.
“It was a U13 game where I met them for the first time, that time St Bedes and Santhome were two of the best teams in Chennai. Indrajith and Aparajith were playing from DAV Mogappair and both of them stood out for the team. With such a good team we had, they outclassed us and won the tournament.”
An easy go-to in terms of music for a person who grew up might be Illayaraja or AR Rahman, but his artist choice, just like his selection of role as a cricketer, is starkly different from the others. For him, it was the Canadian singer, The Weeknd, miles and miles away from his place in Chennai who ensured his sanity during the last few years.
“Actually no one has asked me about The Weeknd before. Of course in the last two-three years, my friends go out and play their matches, so I have to have someplace to unwind myself. So his music kept me going, his music or the lyrics isn’t exactly what has inspired me. His songs are dark, I have no idea how it kept me going, it is a bit weird, he doesn’t sing any inspirational songs. His music, his voice kept me occupied and that kept me going. According to me, The Weeknd is the best artist. It was an escape mechanism for me, it’s weird to think about it,” he concluded.