Ravichandran Ashwin, Virat Kohli’s ‘Modern Legend’
Ashwin, for now at least, will be one of the first names pencilled in on the team sheet.
For Ravichandran Ashwin, the ongoing cricket season has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride and one expects, not without reason, to see him add to the list of match-winning performances.
The fastest Indian bowler to reach the 400-wicket mark in Tests, he has consistently given batsmen nightmares – more than 200 left-handers have had no answer. He was called a "modern-day legend" by captain Virat Kohli at the world’s largest cricket stadium in Motera – probably the perfect stage.
But is this how it was meant to pan out for one of India’s best Test cricketers, if not one of the best the country has seen – probably not.
Over the years, Ashwin, who made his Test debut in 2011, has had his fitness questioned and seen eyebrows raised about his abilities, leading to him not being a regular feature in the Indian team.
But be that as it may, the current situation is a stark contrast, and a corner has been turned. Ashwin, for now at least, will be one of the first names pencilled in on the team sheet.
Ahead of the Boxing Day Test, when Indian cricket was at its lowest after the debacle of Adelaide and selection policies were under the scanner, Sunil Gavaskar wrote, “For far too long Ashwin has suffered not for his bowling ability of which only the churlish will have doubts, but for his forthrightness and speaking his mind at meetings where most others just nod even if they don’t agree. If Ashwin doesn’t take heaps of wickets in one game he is invariably sidelined for the next one. That does not happen to established batsmen though.”
Ashwin’s career has seen him touch dizzying heights before reaching a phase where there were dead ends aplenty and he was over-eager, desperate to prove himself, overseas, to others more than anything else.
Then came the along the dreaded coronavirus pandemic which put a pause on everything, on Ashwin too, who spent that time reflecting about the thing he loved most – cricket.
“The whole pandemic, where we shut off and locked ourselves down, it made me think 'what is going to happen?'. For me, if you take the game away, I'm literally lost. Even if I'm not playing some formats of the game for the country, I'm putting the TV on, watching some preview, what's happening, what's not happening… I'm that sort of a person. Suddenly, the game's not happening and we're all sitting at home, so I was reflecting upon myself and trying to understand how I can learn from people, what people were perceiving of me,” Ashwin told Kohli in Chennai after winning the second Test against England.
Come the IPL, Ashwin would have felt a lot better, after all, he was back to where he felt most at home – the cricket field, and soon enough it was backs to the wall against a hostile Australia, that too with their premier batsman unavailable.
The man from Chennai had Steve Smith’s number yet again in Melbourne as the ‘calm’ Ajinkya Rahane led from the front. Always thinking and analysing, Ashwin didn’t afford the Australians an inch but instead stood tall, very tall and worked it out on the go with efficiency that left the opposition rattled.
So stung were the Australians, that the tone of Tim Paine’s verbal volleys changed and how!
“Maybe. Are you a selector here as well?” Paine replied, adding, “At least my teammates like me, d**khead. I’ve got a lot more Indian friends than you do. Even your teammates think you’re a goose. Don’t they? Every one of them."
"Tell me when you’re done," was Ashwin's calm reply. His words as much a reply to Paine's sledges as to his critics. Tell him when you're done because he is far from done.
While Paine found it hard to get his bearings right Ashwin more than played his part in completing one of the greatest heists at the picturesque Sydney Cricket Ground. Battered and bruised, Ashwin had yet again saved the day along with Hanuma Vihari in grand style, leading to deserving accolades from all corners of the fraternity.
"This is as good as winning a Test match, when you come abroad and play a match like this, it was really special. Credit to Ashwin and Vihari for the way they batted, Pujara, Rohit, Pant everyone chipped into the team's cause. But credit to Vihari and Ashwin for batting 2.5 hours in the end," Rahane said in Sydney.
Batting close to 300 deliveries against an Australian attack, who had no qualms in using the short-ball tactic healthily, was no mean feat. Ashwin, as his wife Prithi had narrated, was in tremendous pain on the eve of the final day but found his ‘zone’ when it was time to get the job done.
"Australia's tactics during the fourth innings of the SCG Test really made me curious. Their tactics looked like Australia did not realise what we were doing… my back became stiff and I could not move. They made a mistake. If they had pitched it up to me, I might have edged or found it difficult, I feel. They thought to scare us off by hitting us everywhere by bouncing. It worked counterproductively. The more beaten I got, the more resolve I got. What more is left to be thrown at me? I got an inner resolve," Ashwin told fielding coach R Sridhar on his YouTube channel.
The highs of Australia met the resolute Joe Root in Chennai first before the local lad turned on the style yet again at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, in what could likely be his last couple of Tests there.
When England and India resumed with Act 2, Ashwin took it as a cue to turn on the style for the fans who returned to the stadium for the first time in almost a year. Eight wickets and an absolute batting masterclass helped complete a match-winning century, one that he’ll hold close to his heart for years to come as they ruthlessly rolled over the English.
At Ahmedabad, Ashwin scaled Mt 400, possibly putting to rest, for now, the hurtful comparisons with Nathan Lyon, and any doubt about his importance to this Indian side.
“... it's been a fairytale. When I started the Aussie tour, I didn't expect to be playing in the XI because Jadeja was looking like he was going to start. And he got a hamstring tear and since then things have just looked upwards," Ashwin said after the Ahmedabad win.
Is Ashwin at the peak of his powers?
Irrespective, trust him to find solutions on the go, trust him to find a way to hit the top off and trust him to put a fair price on his place in the team as well.
“In Test match cricket, he is surely a modern legend and we’re just lucky to have him in our team. As a captain I am so pleased he plays for us,” Kohli said in Ahmedabad.
Put those two statements together and you have the best possible representation of what the last four months have been like for Ashwin. Not sure of being picked by his captain to being named a modern day legend by the same man. In the same dressing room that Paine claimed he may not find many fans and where Gavaskar said he was sidelined for being forthright.
And the best part isn’t even that. It is that Ashwin has done so by being the same Ashwin he was four, five months back or even five years back.
The more things change the more they stay the same!
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