Transcript: Couch Talk with Ravichandran Ashwin

Couch Talk Episode 74 (play)

Guest: R. Ashwin

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman– Hello and welcome to CouchTalk. Today’s guest is Indian cricketer, Ravichandran Ashwin. He talks about his Indian career so far, his approach to the game, his potential as a batsman, domestic cricket, M. S. Dhoni, among other things.

Welcome to the show, Ashwin!

Ravichandran Ashwin– Thank you so much!

SJ– It is now nearly a year and a half since your Test debut, and you have been a part of international cricket for much longer than that. How do you think your approach to the game has evolved over this period of time, especially in Test cricket?

RA– Especially in Test cricket, I haven’t had a varied difference since I started playing first class cricket. I haven’t made any marked changes or adjustments in terms of approach. It has always been the same. I have always given the respect the duration game always requires. It is not like I am required to make a big step out or a big change there.

SJ– However, when you played domestic competitions like Ranji, Duleep, Irani etc, and then you come to Test cricket, your oppositions are that much better. So, you have to lift your game up.

RA– Basically, the opposition doesn’t feature in terms of approach one takes to the game. It always remains the same – a first class game that I play for Tamil Nadu is probably equally (as) important as Test cricket that I play for my country because as far as I am concerned, the game takes center-stage. Especially, if it is a duration game, the amount it is going to test someone’s ability or someone’s mental strength to tackle different situations is still going to remain the same.

With respect to the opposition, yes, it is not like a marked change that you need to the approach. Just the strategy and planning for different players changes. It doesn’t differ if it is Mike Hussey of Mohammed Kaif who is playing at the other end. You have to strategise differently for each of them.

SJ– Depending on who you listen to, everybody would agree that you are the leading spinner for India right now, and you are following in the footsteps of Anil Kumble or Harbhajan Singh as the lead spinner of India. Does it bring with it any additional expectations from the fans, the team, team management, and yourself?

RA– I do not know about expectations or what others think about me or what others think about what I do or what I don’t do. If that is an approach that I have to take to the game that I love playing the most, then I would not take it. I would rather believe in myself and do what I am good at. When I am doing what I am good at and love the most, i don’t have to put any pressure on myself.

It is just a game to me. You hear most people say, “It is just a game, we need to take it in the stride, it is a part of the game” and all that. I strongly believe that it is a game, but it is something that you love to do and it is something that is giving you a life. You are making a living out of the game. i have to give as much respect as someone in a corporate sector gives to his job. That is the approach that I will take towards it. I will say that it is not putting any additional pressure on me, but just demanding the duty that I owe to the game.

SJ– As a lead spinner, you play all formats- Tests, ODIs, T20s, and of course, you are the key bowler for CSK as well how much of an effect does it have when you have to shift from one format of the game to another?

RA– It takes a lot. Initially, when I started to play international cricket, I used to get quite a bit of break inside the dressing room. I used to get more time for practice. Hence, the change was not that difficult. I used to make the transition from one format to another very easily.

But, I started playing ODIs more before playing Test cricket. The shift from ODI to T20 was in itself a challenge for me. Now, when you play so much of Test cricket, it is an even bigger challenge. I feel that over the last 3-4 years that I have been in international cricket, I think it is important to carry the momentum into a game. or, if I am playing a game today and have one tomorrow, it is important to carry the momentum if I have done pretty well [in this game] into the next game. if I haven’t done very well today, the transition gets that much difficult. If I play a game 2 days before the IPL starts, and if it is a good game, I need to carry that momentum into the game. it will be that much easier. If I hadn’t had a good game in the last week or so in which I played a couple of games, then the practice becomes that much more critical, the transition becomes that much more critical. In all it is quite challenging. I am not sure how much more difficult or easier it would have been for players in the era where T20 was not present. But, it is definitely a difficult challenge now.

SJ– The habits from one could seep into the other. Some batsman would say that they developed some bad habits. The same things with the bowlers. One of the areas where you can fix bad habits that creep into your action or stance is spending time in domestic cricket. But, since your debut, you haven’t had a chance to play a domestic first class cricket. How much of an effect does it have in the development of you as a Test cricketer?

RA– Playing first class cricket is very critical before you play international cricket. I am a firm believer in that. I am not sure, and I am hence not in a position to make a comment on saying how important it is to play first class cricket in between international cricket. The reason why I say that is that I played very good first class cricket for 4-5 years before I turned my arm over in international cricket. It had a huge effect. I had gone through a cycle before that. I have gone through ups and downs and absolute over-the-top performances. I knew what it was all about. I knew cricket was a cycle. That lesson, first class cricket will teach you. That is what you will go through in first class cricket. But, how much you must play first class cricket in-between Test cricket is really not something that I should be answering because I am really not sure.

To me, if I get a chance to play for my state side, in-between, I will be really charged up and give it all. I will be so for any game, even if it is my club game that I have to play for, I will turn up like I turn up for an international game, with the same amount of intensity. To me, if you cannot bring the same intensity to any game of cricket to the game you are playing,  it is a big amount of disrespect that you show to the game because when you start playing this game wanting to play in the Indian colours one day. And if you are not able to turn up with the same intensity for any game, you are disrespecting the game.

SJ– Let’s talk a bit about your start of the career, and your travel so far. You had a tremendous debut series with both bat and ball. Then you went to Australia, which has been your only abroad series so far. India, as a team struggled, we could not get the same kind of rewards. But, the fortunes have turned around.

A question comes from a listener, Shoaib, from Australia- What do you most attribute to the change? Was it the playing surface, being a home series, or being the change of ball, as listener Gautham points out, from Kookaburra to SG.

RA– Before getting in to answering the question, I will tell that I am not a person who would defend myself in any case. If I have done something wrong, and if I have not performed, then yes. I will put an end to it and work on it to come back stronger. Before I get back to answering this question, I wanted to make this clear.

With respect to what happened in Australia, on a broader note for the team, I wasn’t experienced enough, I wasn’t a senior player in the team to comment on what went wrong. So, I will just talk on my performance.

Personally, I thought I bowled a couple of my best spells in Australia- one in Melbourne and one in Adelaide. At Sydney, I was basically a restrictive bowler. I had to do that. It was a great learning curve for me in Australia. I enjoyed Melbourne the most , there was drift in the air and bounce on the wicket. Adelaide was also a fantastic Test match, I had a fantastic Test match as far my bowling went on. I thought I had a really good two games there. As for my batting, I enjoyed batting there as well.

Definitely, the Kookaburra ball has an effect on the bowlers. It is one of the toughest ball to bowl with. Just to draw a comparison, if averages and strike rates are something to go by, then I wouldn’t be playing this game. The comparison – Graeme Swann had 14 wickets in 4 Tests in the Ashes. I got 10 wickets in 2 Tests in Australia because the Sydney Test was a one-innings Test and I hadn’t taken a wicket there. That is how I will make comparisons and set benchmarks and try and achieve something and not look at averages and strike rates. That is not my forte. For a spinner to win Test matches abroad, he has to come on to his own in the 4th innings. When you really provide a spinner with a score to defend in the 4th innings, that is when a spinner must be tested.

SJ– Fair. I agree with you. With respect to bowling, everyone says “you bowl as a unit”, especially abroad. If the pacers don’t give you inroads early on, then you come on in the 25th over or so against two set batsmen and start defensive from the outset.

RA– I strongly object to that. You can’t actually say that if the fast bowlers haven’t struck early then you come on and start defensively. I don’t believe in that. If you call yourselves a bowling unit, we have to cover up for one another. Definitely, not everyone is going to have a great day in the field on that day. It is important to stick your hand up and say that you will cover up. That is the attitude you need to take. What comes out of it is 50% your attitude and 50% of what you deliver that day. If your attitude is 50% alright on that day, then you will come out on top more often than not. That is my opinion.

SJ– It is curios to me- from a personal bowler point of view, if you are coming against two set batsmen, your approach to the bowling crease- would it be any different at all?

RA– No. If my fast bowlers haven’t struck, if my teammates haven’t struck in the first twenty over, I will take it up as a challenge to cover up for them because they haven’t had a great start. That is point number one. Point number two- I will think there are ten wickets left in the game for me to take. That is another approach that I would take.

SJ– That’s true.

Another question comes from a listener, Anirban, regarding the bowling unit, especially spinners. What pre-game homework happens as spinners?

RA– With respect to bowling units, we sit together and watch in team meetings what other teams’ batsmen’s strengths are, then you analyse that. Generally, it is a feed that everyone gets. The coaches, bowlers and senior players have their opinions on every player. It is just a feeder. They give their opinion. It is an individual’s responsibility to take it from there and work on it and devise a game plan. It is individual on that sense. You have to be clear on what you want to execute. You will have to let the person do his own work and express himself the next day.

SJ– Have there been instances where you guys sat and talked about particular ways to attack? Of course, not everything works the way you want, but you go “Aha! We talked about this and this, and it is exactly what we wanted.”

RA– Personally, I am a strong believer in strategy and planning. It is worth it. It works a lot of times. A lot of times the plan wouldn’t have worked because of lack of execution skills or because of the batsmen’s brilliance. That does happen. If you don’t have a plan as a cricketer, I don’t think it is great news for me to come into the game. if I am looking at a bowler coming into a game without a plan, with a plain mind, it is quite weird and wrong.

SJ– one of the things that pops in my head is you bowling to Chris Gayle in the IPL final and you got him out cheaply. There was this incidence where M. S. Dhoni set a dead straight long off against the Mumbai Indians a couple of years ago. Those sorts of things happen in the back room, and get implemented?

RA– With respect to what happened with Chris Gayle, I had my numbers on him. I seriously had it. I had a lot of confidence bowling at him. Obviously, for me it is all about how the ball comes out of the hand. I can really get on top of the game and really know that it is coming well out of my hands and everything is running pretty well. so, I would just chuck everything else and stick to my plan. Even when I am batting, when some of the bowlers come on to bowl, I know that I can take them apart. Likewise, if you see someone, you know that you can definitely either get him out or you can pin him down, especially in a T20 game. there are certain players that you can be wary of, who if they get hold of they can take you to the cleaners. The situation and time is very important as well. generally, these type of things in a T20 game can happen instinctively. It all boils down to how much experience that you have accumulated and how much information that you have taken. All these things boil down and help you in making plans, decision making in the crunch time. Those crunch moments define how well you can read the situation. It is the questions of being very instinctive and also being very calculative.

SJ– Coming back to Team India, your current bowling coach is Joe Dawes, a pacer. Would it be advantageous to have another coach, a spinner coach? Like England have David Saker and Mushy (Mushtaq Ahmed). As Dhoni would say, you play 70-80% of the time in the subcontinent , where you are going to play 2 or more spinners . So, wouldn’t it be advantageous to have a spinning coach as well?

RA– I personally do not have an opinion about that. I don’t think it is advisable for me to give an answer on that. I don’t have an opinion either.

SJ– When it comes to the international competition, one day you go face to face against these guys and in one week from it you are playing in, say, an IPL tournament where you are teammates. How do you go about separating your emotions from what you have to do on the field?

RA– If I have to answer that, it will get a little funny. The thing is that, over a period of time when you play 4 or 5 editions of IPL, you tend to get loyalties to your own franchise and you want to achieve something away from it. You have a different team, you have different teammates and you have to achieve success from a different angle. That is what helps you to separate yourself from international games and IPL club games and all that because you have to achieve against each other, prove a point and all that. These are the kind of things that will motivate people. It has just developed over the last five years. So, it is easier. You want to achieve success with different teams, for different reasons and all that. That is about it. That makes things easier.

SJ– We talked about CSK. One question comes from Mohnish, who asks about team culture. What would you like to transfer from how the CSK team is run and would like to implement in Team India and vice versa? The good things from both situations…

RA– You can never compare a franchise to an international team. It is a very wrong thing to do. A franchise is run in a very different way from what an international team is. The pressures are different. It is a corporate culture, business at the end of the day. I wouldn’t call the same thing with CSK. The CSK have a very homely touch to what they do. They are very friendly people. The franchise has been involved in cricket for years together. They are cricket people. They know how to run cricket. There are various advantages in CSK, but you can never compare that to international cricket. It is a very tough thing to do.

SJ– OK. I saw this interview of yours with Badri(nath, S.) and (Laxmipathy) Balaji on Coffee With Anu. In that, you said, “Dhoni enna yosikkiraan’nu kuda theriyala.” That you couldn’t even figure out what (Dhoni) is thinking. That was in the CSK situation. Is it the same way, when you both are donning the Indian colours, or do you have a better understanding?

RA– Over the period of last two years, I have picked up a lot more. At this point of time, I would get 7 out of 10 things right about what he thinks at different points of time. I have gotten used to the way he operates and what he needs when he throws the ball at you. Now, it is much more easier. It was early days for me back then and it was all new. I was fresh from my first class cricket and I led my own state side. There were thinking differences, platforms and all that. Now, I am used to it.

SJ– It is an interesting point in the Indian cricket where the old guard is moving on and the new guys are coming in. When Dhoni took on, there were many seniors in the team and if he wanted, he could lean on any support and advice. He could take the back seat approach. With the new kids coming on, you think his approach may have to be slightly different, would you say?

RA– It is not fair to point out and say what he has done and what he is going to do. at different points of time, he has worn different hats and come out successfully. So, you need to give him the space and let him do what he does. He has been very good in what he does. He keeps it very simple. It is a very simple game and he has kept it very simple for himself. Hi think he will continue to keep it simple. As long as it is that way, it will work.

SJ– This question was sent in by a lot of people. Their understanding and comprehension of how you approach your game and how you analyse the game and talk about it, based on the interviews and pressers, you have the potential to be the future Indian captain. Are there moments on the field that as things are unfolding, you thought “If I were the captain I would do things this way… or that way”

RA– Everybody should actually think on situations like that and that helps you to enhance the capabilities and skills on how you read situations and things like that, and how you approach it when you have the ball, at the back of your mind. That is my opinion. If I have an idea about how someone must play their game, I would definitely tell them that. But, when you are young and the blood is pumping, all these things happen. You want to say that you want to do this and that, but that is not really how it needs to be played. You panic when you do that.

Over a period of time you will realise that you need to be vey calm and take any learning from any situation in the game. even if it is 19.5 overs gone and with one ball to go and your team need a win, you can learn something from that, put it in the back of your mind and put it in your knowledge kit. I believe there is a knowledge bank in your cricketing career where you keep putting all your failures and one day that bank will turn into a really good investment and give good returns. That is something that I firmly believe in. But, I don’t have any set plans about what I have to be doing. That is how my cricketing career and life has been. It has been very systematic, flowy, steady. It has been slow, the development, but when it has happened, it has really come big time. I have never aimed for something in particular. If it happens, it happens. There are no aims or ambitions and all that. As a cricketer, as an individual in the game, I keep improving, and keep wanting to grow in life.

SJ– How is the information flow, whether you are playing for Tamil Nadu or whether you are playing for CSK or for India? You come in as a new kid in the block and maybe it is hard to approach the captain with your inputs. Whereas, in like your case now, you have been in the team for 3 + years, it is more easy.

RA– To me, right from the age of 12, when I played cricket for my state at whatever level, when I had the ball in my hand, I am the boss. If X, Y or Z needs to be standing somewhere, he will be. The field I want is something that I will always get. That is a very positive thing about Dhoni. He really backs me well. He gives me whatever I want. Sometimes, when I am at the top of my mark, he knows what are the different options I am thinking and whatever I ask for, he gives. If things are not going right, we ask for suggestions and discuss and settle down. I know what he is going to say and he knows what I am going to say. It is that way. As a bowler, you have to be the boss. You have 9 soldiers at the boundaries, so you should have them at the best possible locations. I shouldn’t leave the field thinking “Oh, I could have put him there” or “I could have said no to that fielder.” When I go to sleep, I should feel that I have had the best possible resources at the right places and it has not got in my way, so it is fine and I can work on something else.

SJ– Let’s talk a bit about your batting. I have seen 3 of your 4 highest scores live in the stadium. There is a bit of VVS in your batting. Do you feel that you can be a genuine option for India as an all-rounder for India no matter what the conditions are?

RA– I believe in opinions and I think everyone should have one. I have one and I stick strongly to it. I think I have really been batting well to say that I am doing my job as a batsman as well. it has come out really well. I feel the ball is coming off the bat really well. but, it is like, that the team should need the necessity to use me at a place where it really requires me to play. Wherein the necessity arise… At the moment I don’t think there is a necessity, and I am really doing my role at my place. With respect to that, I would look to improve myself at every aspect of the game as possible. I keep growing as a cricketer, and that is what I should be looking at as a cricketer. I feel that I should be doing at the best of my potential, best of my abilities and best of my efforts. If I have done that, I will be sitting pretty happy.

SJ– I want to ask about the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy team as well. Hemang badani was on this show a couple of months ago and I asked him the same question. TN has had some of the best cricketers, a lot of them, but not many have gone on to become great in India colours. His theory was that when the TN cricketers go on to play for India, they become a bit complacent. What is your take on why there are not as many TN cricketers playing for India?

RA– What is complacency?

SJ– He said that they feel that they have already achieved what they wanted to do because they have put on the India colours.

RA– It could be. I am not saying that it couldn’t be a reason. What I am seeing is the junior crop. (Murali) Vijay, Dinesh Kartik, Badrinath, they are the ones that I know. Previous era was of people that I did not know. The current generation is a real hungry lot. I am sure they will put in the efforts to achieve more. They are going to bring glory to the state.

It is all about the mind set. If someone is going to get complacent after getting into the international level and playing for the country, it is not great sign. If that can happen, I don’t know what is the requirement of wearing the team colours.

SJ– That is a good question, but I am in no place to answer that.

One question that I wanted to ask, and it comes from a listener Anantha. He says that you played for your team in Chennai where you had a kerchief on your head and hid your face when you came on to play. Is that true? Any more information on that?

RA– Yes. Last year, I think. I was playing in IPL and we didn’t think we had a chance to qualify for the knockouts. These are the times when I go out with my friends and play Blue Sky games and all that. I played quite a bit of local gully cricket and all that in TN. I don’t do kerchief all the time. But, it was really hot at that time in the afternoon. I don’t enjoy playing with anything, but I had to put the kerchief on. Obviously, I don’t want to let people know that I am playing.

The reason why I do that is because I do different things there. I have tried bowling left arm spin. I have tried hitting switch hit shots. I have tried bowling different things like the knuckle ball. I wanted to try something that I knew. I know it will come out sometimes really badly. Those are the trying platforms for me. I have worked on different things. My batting got better once I started playing those games. Those are the games where I put into practice the different things that I wanted to try. I am never shy of trying. Every time I try something and I think it would work, I go to these games and try rather than trying it in tougher situations. Once I am comfortable about it, I go to games and try it in my game. That has been helpful. It is my personal opinion and people could differ on that.

SJ– Another question from a listener, Navneet, on the up and coming spinner talent pool within in India- we have you, (Pragyan) Ojha, (Ravindra) Jadeja, Harbahjan; and then we have a big talent gap. We used to be producing spinners at a dime a dozen. Can you put a finger on why that could be?

RA– It don’t think it is true. I think there are a lot of good spinners coming through. It is just that there are such kind of people. We look for areas and say “we don’t have any of this”, “we don’t do this” or “we are not good at this”. This is a very pessimistic attitude. I cannot figure out why that happens. There are people who will come to you and tell that the domestic talent is good enough.

The evidence for that is what Shikhar Dhawan did. He just came and blasted his way through. That really shows you what Indian first class cricket is. When someone from first class cricket is thrown into the test arena and blasts his way out against and International Aussie side, isn’t that evidence enough to show what first class cricket holds? There are spinners around. I know a few of them personally. We just have to wait and watch.

SJ– One last question. Once you play for Ranji and then you play for India, everyone can recognize you. Everyone is going to give you cricketing advice. How big of a sacrifice is it to give up on your privacy to play for India? It is not just you, but people around you lose your privacy- your family etc.

RA– That is true. To a large extent, privacy gets affected. I somehow like to live the same life as before. It hasn’t changed much. I still go to the corner shop and eat chat or soup.  Those kind of things get affected. Those are small things that make a big difference in life. And there a lot of other aspects too, that I have retained. I’m still enjoying life. I don’t think it is impossible to live the way you lived before you achieved celebrity status. I can still live the same way. Again, it is my opinion.

SJ– Thanks a lot for coming on the show.

RA– Thanks!

SJ– Thanks, Ashwin!

Download the full episode here.

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman