Rumi, considered among the most popular poets, is venerated globally for his alluring words which spark a barrage of thoughts. Yet, the Persian laureate himself was never too keen on the subject.
On the contrary, Rumi once wrote “Put your thoughts to sleep. Do not let them cast a shadow over the moon of your heart. Let go of thinking.”
Anyone, who has ever been forced into the typecast of an ‘overthinker,’ would corroborate that there can be nothing more liberating than following what Rumi said, that is, letting go of thinking. But it is a task much easier said than done, and overthinkers, in the same vein as Ravichandran Ashwin, understand it perfectly fine.
Perhaps it has to do with his fancy engineering degree, or perhaps his pragmatic persona, that ever since he stepped his foot into the arena of international cricket, Ashwin was never considered as among the stereotypical, happy-go-lucky cricketers.
From the devil-may-cares, he proved to be the one who cared – about anything and everything, and to an extent where he might have contemplated not caring. More than his wickets and runs, Ashwin’s thought process has been lionised.
But for the player, the tag of an overthinker ‘sticks on like a menace,’ and just because he possesses this trait, Ashwin does not recommend others to walk the same walk – simply because not everyone is meant to analyse, and over-analyse, every minute aspect of the game.
The Art of Thinking, but for the Greater Good
Ashwin, for all of his righteous denouncement of the tag which operates on the thin line separating the boon from the bane, was always meant to think. The cricket enthusiasts of the nation can consider themselves fortunate for that.
For had he not been the thinker that he is, Ashwin could have easily played a reckless shot instead of calmly leaving the ball for a wide in the last delivery of the T20 World Cup match against Pakistan – where India needed 2 runs from 1 ball. Had he not been an immaculate thinker, he could have just tried to run a cheap single when India needed 1 from 1, instead of trying to clear the mid-off.
Virat Kohli, the star of the show for his spectacular 82, was left mesmerised at the other end. Explaining his partner’s shenanigans, all he could say was “But Ash, usne dimag ke upar extra dimag lagaya (he used his intelligence to his advantage).”
There are, broadly, two ways of approaching a game of cricket – many could take it for a war and go head-on, with might and willpower their greatest allies. A few rare Ashwins around the world, however, would rather split the 22 yards into 64 squares, with each of their plans resembling a meticulously-thought chess move.
When the Seeds Were Sown
The practice had started long before – when despite being only 12 years of age, the Chennai-born player was asked to set fields for himself by his childhood coach, Chandrasekar Rao. While the talent was always evident, nothing ever really comes effortless for those who think, and the case was the same with Ashwin.
Then a pacer, he eventually moulded himself into an off-spinner, and then spun his ways between the grounds and his classes at SSN College. He would multitask efficiently enough to not let academics lag behind, while also ensuring he picked up six wickets in the Ranji Trophy debut during his third year at college.
A few months and a few first-class wickets later, Ashwin met another coach who played a significant role in his soaring rise – Sunil Subramanian.
Having already shown his calibre, Subramanian presumed Ashwin to be braggadocious – giving suggestions instead of soaking them in. But being his usual over-curious self, the then 20-year-old surprised his coach with his inquisitiveness, inundating him with questions about the minuscule nuances of the sport.
In an interview with The Quint, Subramanian had recalled that “it was overwhelming (meeting Ashwin). For the first 3-4 days, it was questions and more questions. Normally when a senior player comes to the academy, everybody listens to him. But here, we had a player who was questioning more than listening.”
One of the Greatests, With or Without Validation
On the back of a strong show in the 2010 Indian Premier League, Ashwin made his ODI debut in June 2010, and in his very first international expedition, the ‘thinker’ tag was on display. At a time when India was on the verge of losing against Sri Lanka, with Dinesh Chandimal taking the game away with his century, Ashwin got rid of the batter with a beautifully executed carom ball.
The next year saw him picking nine wickets, and subsequently becoming then only the third Indian to win the player of the match on his debut Test match.
Between then to now, Ashwin has done enough to establish himself as one of India’s greatest all-rounders, albeit without the recognition he deserved.
Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja played match-winning knocks in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy final against England, but the all-rounder also played his part to perfection, bowling a brilliant last over and recording figures of 4-1-15-2.
Before India won the decisive fourth Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2020/21, Ashwin played a match-saving knock of 128-ball 39 in the third Test, despite struggling to even stand straight with an agonising back spasm.
And the latest addition to his series of incredible achievements is the 42-run knock in the second Test against Bangladesh, taking India over the finish line from a troublesome spot at 74/7.
Indeed, statistics will show that among those who have picked 500+ international wickets of India, Ashwin has scored the second-highest runs, behind only the timeless legend that Kapil Dev is. Globally, he is among the elite list of six cricketers who have 400+ wickets and 3000+ runs in Test cricket.
Now at 36, Ashwin has arrived at his last chapter. Numbers corroborate his brilliance, but neither was he always among the most celebrated by the fans, nor among the most trusted by the management, having never been considered for the captaincy role despite a much-talked-about cricketing brain.
With flamboyance being a special trick of the trade in the sport, the player’s level-headed equanimity might not have always been revered. But the genius of Ravichandran Ashwin goes beyond the realms of validation.
For not everyone might have noticed, but he has already played the winning move in the chessboard. Time and again. Checkmate.