When Murugan Ashwin’s name came up on the 2016 IPL auction screen, most viewers attempted to trace a connection with India’s strike bowler and name sake Ravichandran Ashwin. However, the bidding war which ensued, established the Chennai-based leg spinner as one of the highest gainers at this year’s auction.
At Rs 4.5 crores, Murugan climbed from an initial base price of Rs 10 lakhs, to shock the cricketing fraternity and sign for Rising Pune Super Giants (RPSG). But, if recent form is anything to go by, the bidding feud was more than justified.
At the recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Murugan picked up 10 wickets in 23 overs, averaging a wicket every 14 balls. In just six matches, he raised several eyebrows among the Indian Premier League (IPL) scouts. He was the second highest wicket-taker for Tamil Nadu behind Rahil Shah who picked up 12 dismissals.
The begining of an unsung journey
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, he said, “It is just an unreal feeling, I am really really happy and I want to thank RPSG for having the faith in me. Honestly, I was not bothered about the money, but the faith shown by Pune has given me a lot of confidence.”
If you are to have a closer look at Murugan’s career, you would figure out that his journey to the top of India’s cricket hierarchy has been a case of natural progression. He said, “Since a very young age I was very interested in cricket. In fact, when I was around six years old, I used to play cricket in the house itself. At one point, I started breaking everything in the house, so my parents decided to send me to coaching. They enlisted in YMCA in Nandanam under Coach P S Suresh Kumar, since then I haven’t looked back. Cricket has been my dream.”
After learning the basics of cricket, the 25-year old was quickly snapped up by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) age-group teams. He added, “ Since I was 10-11, I have been representing Tamil Nadu in various age groups such u-12, u-13, u-15, u17, u-19, u-22 and u-25. I then made my senior team debut in 2012 for Tamil Nadu. I have been in Tamil Nadu cricket for a long time now.”
His father Era Murugan is a dialogue/script writer in the Tamil film industry, having inked several films such as blockbuster hit, Billa 2. He said, “I am very lucky to have a father like him. It is because of him I have never given up on my passion. He himself did something out of the box, so he helped with it as well. He never cared about marks, he knew I wanted to play cricket and always encouraged me.”
Despite being a stalwart within state cricket, Murugan’s breakthrough year was 2015. He would go onto help Tamil Nadu reach the Vijay Hazare Trophy semi-finals, under senior Ashwin’s captaincy. A three wicket haul against Mumbai in the group stages, ensured Tamil Nadu a safe passage into the semi-finals. He broke the crucial 120 run stand between Akhil Herwadkar and Siddhesh Lad, picking up both their wickets. Murugan registered figures of 3 for 38 in 7.2 overs.
‘Dhoni bhai’ asked me to focus on my variations, which helped me a lot: Murugan
Murugan attributes his success to the CSK net-bowling camp in 2015. He said, “I was luckily selected for the net-bowling camp of CSK last year. There I got to bowl to the likes of ‘Dhoni bhai’, Suresh Raina and all the international level batsmen. That gave me a lot of exposure on how to work on several things. For example Dhoni bhai taught me how to diversify my variations in T20 cricket, he stated that I have good variations and that can help me as well. Apart from that he taught, how to bowl to left-handers. So the advice he gave me, I started implementing that during my local league matches, and it has paid dividend.”
Speaking about his relationship with senior Ashwin, he said, “I first met him in 2012, when I was going to make my debut. He gave me my debut cap and I learned a few things from him then. However, the best experience I had with him was for the Vijay Hazare Trophy, where he was Captain. Luckily, I had 15 days to train with him and he showed me a lot of technical details. Those technical details I implemented and it helped me a lot. The Mumbai match I bowled in tandem with him, so we developed a good partnership then.”
Unfortunately, Murugan never got a chance to bowl during his debut match against Odisha. The following matches saw him concede 246 runs in 402 balls, with just one wicket to show for it.
In the local cricket scenario, Murugan is well known for applying massive variations to the game. In fact, several local cricketers have called him ‘the most unpredictable bowler,’ they have faced. Talking about this face to his game, he said, “As a leg spinner, I am brought on to get wickets. I’m a very aggressive bowler, who loves bowling and varying his googlies. That is one strong point of mine, which I will be implementing during the IPL.”
Cricket in Tamil Nadu has a strong grassroot level: Murugan
“I would also attribute my rise to cricket in Tamil Nadu. I feel over the past decade the cricket divisions here at every age catergory have gone from strength to strength. You now have players coming in from different states to play here. It just show how competitive and well structured it is. Hopefully, they can go from strength to strength,” he added.
His local league performances have also been excellent to say the least. Last year, during the zonal U-25 tournament in Ananthapuram, he took five wickets in the final to help South Zone win the trophy. Murugan’s performances for local Chennai cricket club Grand Slam, a first division TNCA team has been equally impressive. He’s picked up 23 wickets in just five matches.
The RPSG spin line-up has quite the Tamil flavour to it, with three out of four belonging to the Southern Indian state. The quarter comprises of the Ashwins, Baba Aparajith and Adam Zampa featuring in the squad. He added, “We have all bowled together for a long time, and we know each other well. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and it will help me settle down at such a high level sooner.”
Murugan never believed in the concept of role models, but his bowling allegiances lie with Anil Kumble and Shane Warne. He said, “I used to watch a lot of their videos to understand the basics. In fact I still do and apply them to my game religiously. I never had a role model, but I look up to them a lot because they perfected this art. That is something I want to do at some point as well.”
Having already surprised a lot of people, Murugan is now looking forward to the IPL season with a strong training regime planned. He said,” I am already training for it, among the various team members I am really looking to meet both Steven Smith and Kevin Pietersen. I really want to bowl to them as one is in the form of his life and the other is someone I have always respected for his style of play. I am really looking forward to taking up the responsibility bestowed on me and prove to be an integral figure within the team.“
Several pundits have criticised the inflation of uncapped player prices. However, if Murugan’s career trajectory so far is anything to go by, he just might be the ace up RPSG’s sleeve.