From Hatred to Love to Profession: The interesting story of Aswin Crist
Making your first-class debut at the age of 19 and spearheading your team's bowling attack in four years' time with just 13 matches in three seasons under your belt is not an easy thing to do.
But, Tamil Nadu fast bowler Aswin Crist took to it like a duck to water as he took 35 wickets in just 10 matches in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy, compared to his 34 wickets in the first three Ranji seasons, and in the process, leading his team to the semi-finals along with his fellow pacers.
His breakthrough came in the Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this took as he took 20 wickets in just 9 innings at an average of 17.6 and a strike-rate of 21, phenomenal numbers for a bowler irrespective of the tournament, and with that, led TN to a record fifth title.
The Vijay Hazare Trophy could well be a turning point in his career as his good work was noticed by the Indian selectors who picked him in the Indian squad (under-23) for the ACC Emerging Teams Cup.
With the new season set to get underway in ten days' time, Aswin has just recovered from an injury he sustained during the TNPL and is raring to go in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy. A successful outing this season will put him in the reckoning for the national squad.
Ahead of the start of a new season, Sportskeeda caught up with the paceman and discussed various aspects. Here are some of the excerpts from the interview.
Q: How did your interest in cricket grow?
I didn't have interest in cricket at all. I didn't like it when I was young. My interest in the sport grew because of my uncle's influence. When I was a kid, I liked to watch cartoons and my uncle liked to watch cricket. If both took place at the same time, he prevailed because I am much younger than him. So, he had to make me watch cricket. One day, he took me to play cricket and asked me to bowl. I couldn't get him out. He challenged me to dismiss him when he batted from behind the stumps.
Still, I failed to do so because he used to get his bat in front of the stumps and deny me a wicket. I was in the second or third standard and that's when I started playing cricket often. That was my first experience. I kept playing tennis ball cricket till the fifth standard, following which I came to Chennai and started playing with the leather ball.
Q: Being a pacer, how difficult was it to adapt to the conditions at the MA Chidambaram Stadium where the wicket traditionally supports the spinners?
Adapting to the conditions is not difficult because I play all my league matches here in Chennai. So, adapting is easy but wicket taking might be difficult because there isn't any assistance from the wicket. For example, if I bowl six overs and get a wicket in some grounds in North India, I need to bowl a few more overs to get one here.
Being a pacer, I generally bowl around 20 overs in an innings by the time the opposition gets dismissed and if I play in Chennai, I will probably bowl around 35 in an innings. Wickets can be taken regardless of the conditions but it will require some time if on wickets that assist the spinners.
Q: What are the struggles you went through to become a cricketer?
My family has supported me ever since my childhood. They never stopped me from doing something related to cricket. The only sacrifice I made was spending my time. We had to spend more time for the sport. Since my childhood, cricket became my priority, even ahead of studies. My school allowed me to play cricket and gave me some leeway with attendance. Till my twelfth standard, I didn't play any first division match. So, I didn't have to play three-day matches. I played second division cricket back then and it used to take place during the weekends. Whenever I represented my school or the state, my school management always gave me on-duty.
Q: When you made your debut, you had Lakshmipathy Balaji to guide you. After just three seasons, you were asked to spearhead the bowling attack. What did you say to your fellow pacers who had their first full seasons in the Indian domestic circuit last campaign?
Bala bhai has been with the team as a coach if not as a player. His thoughts circulate amongst us even when he is not with us. It is like he is still spearheading the team from the outside. During crucial games, his ideas are helpful. As the leader of the bowling attack, my main aim is to dismiss the opposition whenever we go out to bowl. Apart from this, we have set some mini tasks for ourselves. Last season, both K Vignesh and T Natarajan bowled really well because they knew their roles perfectly.
Just like them, I know what my role is. We always look to take wickets; if we are struggling to get wickets, we look to contain the batsmen by stopping the run flow and keeping them at bay. If we continue to do that by bowling good balls, batsmen lose concentration and wickets automatically come. I also keep both the bowlers aware of what's going on and give them some inputs on what to do.
Q: You went to Australia as a part of an exchange program between the BCCI and Cricket Australia. What did you learn when you were in Australia?
The only thing I brought back to Chennai from Australia is the experience of bowling on those wickets. Initially, I was a bit surprised after seeing the facilities bowlers had in Australia and the way they practice. Troy Cooley was the coach in Australia and he taught me a lot of things that are still helping me.
Q: What are your strengths and what is one area you are looking to improve?
My strengths are my outswingers, the lengths and the bounce I generate from them. I am trying to develop a yorker as a variation to bowl in List A and T20s. Adding to this, I will look to improve my pace every single day. Pace is something I don't want to compromise on.
Q: Which one do you prefer? The home and away format in the Ranji Trophy or the one with neutral venues?
As a fast bowler, I always prefer ones that assist me. But, a good bowler will take wickets on any surface. So, it doesn't matter to me. I always want to take wickets but on wickets like the one we get at Chepauk, I might take some more time.
Q: You had a successful Vijay Hazare Trophy last season, picking up 20 wickets in just nine games. Following that success, you were picked to represent India in the ACC Emerging Teams Cup (under-23s). Talk us through that period.
Vijay Hazare Trophy started just after the IPL auction got over. I was not picked by any of the teams. I was hopeful of getting picked but my name didn't come up in the auction. My confidence was shot after that. My father noticed that and said, 'this should not affect you in your next tournament. You should keep giving your best.' These things encouraged me and I kept saying to myself that I would get a chance next year, or that I might still get picked that year if someone got injured.
I just focused on my job and trained hard for the next two weeks. My mindset was good going into the Vijay Hazare tournament and I had been bowling well in the months prior to the tournament. Adding to this, I was motivated to do well after getting dumped in the auction. This helped me do well in the tournament. I just wanted to make my team win and that automatically helped me perform well throughout the tournament.
Q: How is Hrishikesh Kanitkar as a coach?
Kanitkar is a very composed person. He never lets his feelings get the better of him. He might look like a stubborn person who is very strict, but he gives the boys a lot of freedom. If he feels that a player is getting distracted, he addresses it properly. He is a fantastic coach. Both him and Bala bhai helped us a lot last season.
Q: What are the most memorable moments of your career so far?
I have few memorable moments. Getting picked in the India under-23 squad, finishing the Vijay Hazare trophy as the leading wicket-taker and the first innings against Karnataka in the quarter-finals of the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy in Vizag are some of the instances from last season.