‘It’s not been an easy journey’: R Ashwin

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Ravichandran Ashwin faces a challenging situation where he goes from being the top-ranked Test bowler to not securing a place in India’s playing XI. Despite his exceptional performance, he has mostly been limited to playing in one format since mid-2017. Even in that format, his appearances have been sporadic due to the presence of Ravindra Jadeja, who is equally skilled and has shown improvement in batting. The team management often opts for pitches that discourage playing both Ashwin and Jadeja together.

In the recent World Test Championship final, Ashwin had to watch from the sidelines at The Oval while India faced difficulties on the opening day, resulting in them losing control and eventually the match after five days. Following that, the 36-year-old cricketer participated in T20 cricket at the TNPL before returning to the Caribbean. However, Ashwin proved that he had not lost his skills in red-ball cricket as he claimed a five-wicket haul, his 33rd in Test cricket, on the first day of the match in Dominica, which marked the beginning of India’s next World Test Championship campaign.

Ashwin acknowledged the difficulty of being a cricketer when you prepare for a significant event like the World Test Championship final but end up sitting on the sidelines. However, he emphasized that there is no point in sulking and being resentful like any other person in that situation. Ashwin explained that he approached the final mentally and physically prepared to play, having made all the necessary plans for the game. At the same time, he was also mentally prepared for the possibility of not being selected to play.

When Ashwin finds himself not playing in a crucial match like the WTC final, he contemplates on how to respond. He wants to ensure that the dressing room remains motivated and uplifted. He understands that winning the WTC final is of utmost importance and could be a significant achievement in his career, where he could have played a crucial role. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way, primarily due to a challenging first day that put them in a difficult position. Ashwin’s focus is on supporting his teammates and Indian cricket as a whole by providing understanding and giving his best efforts on the field. He believes that is all he can do and prefers to leave it at that.

In the match at Dominica, Ashwin was called to bowl in the ninth over after India lost the toss. He made an immediate impact by inducing a nervous inside edge from Tagenarine Chanderpaul with his first ball. By his third over, he achieved a remarkable feat by joining a select group of bowlers, including Ian Botham, Wasim Akram, Mitchell Starc, and Simon Harmer, who have dismissed both members of a father-son pair in Test cricket. Ashwin continued his impressive performance by taking the wicket of captain Kraigg Brathwaite before Lunch. Later, he went on to dismiss top-scorer Alick Athanaze, Alzarri Joseph, and Jomel Warrican, reaching a significant milestone.

Ashwin mentioned that the pitch offered some bounce, particularly from the pavilion end. There was also a noticeable slope that added to the bounce. The team utilized the favorable conditions effectively during the first session. The pitch had moisture, which allowed the ball to come off it nicely. While the second session saw more turn according to the graphic displayed, Ashwin felt that the turn was relatively slow. However, the initial session provided good bounce and pace off the pitch, which the team capitalized on. The dismissal of Jermaine Blackwood just before Lunch brought a significant shift in momentum towards India. Ashwin also praised the batting efforts of Prithvi Shaw and Rohit Sharma, who performed exceptionally well, leading India to a dominant position on Day 1.

Ashwin’s five-wicket haul in the match moved him ahead of James Anderson into sixth place on the list of cricketers with the most five-wicket hauls in Test cricket. He now stands below Rangana Herath (34), Anil Kumble (35), Richard Hadlee (36), and Shane Warne (37), with Muttiah Muralitharan leading the list by a considerable margin with 67 five-wicket hauls. Additionally, Ashwin became the third Indian bowler, after Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, to reach 700 international wickets. These achievements prompted Ashwin to reflect on his journey.

Ashwin philosophized that both cricketers and individuals experience highs and lows in life. During low points, one has the choice to either dwell on them, complain, and succumb, or learn from those experiences. Ashwin considers himself someone who constantly learns from his lows. He believes that after a good day, it is essential to have a good meal, engage in meaningful conversations, talk to his family, and then let go of the achievements. While recognizing a good day, he understands that there are always areas to improve upon for the future. The pursuit of excellence has been both beneficial and draining for him, as the journey has not been easy. Ashwin expresses gratitude for the lows in his career because they contribute to the highs.

Looking back on his cricketing career, Ashwin marvels at how quickly time has passed. With approximately 14 years in international cricket and nearly 15-16 years if the Indian Premier League is included, he feels that the journey has gone by in a blur. He recalls a statement made by Rahul Dravid when he was his coach, emphasizing that the number of wickets taken or runs scored will eventually be forgotten, but the great memories created as a team will be cherished.

Ashwin fully supports this perspective and jokes that Dravid might have brainwashed him into believing it. From his point of view, the journey has been so fast-paced that he struggles to recollect the details of what has happened. Nonetheless, he expresses immense gratitude and appreciation for the journey and the opportunities cricket has provided him. While uncertain of what lies ahead, Ashwin commits to fully enjoying whatever moments come his way. Since the resumption of cricket after the Covid-19 pandemic, he made a promise to himself to find joy in every aspect, whether it’s playing, being dropped, or retiring. Regardless of the circumstances, Ashwin vows to embrace and savor each experience.

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