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Interview with R Ashwin: "I am extremely fond of Virat Kohli's commitment for the game"

Interview with Ravichandran Ashwin.

R Ashwin during a practice session at the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo

Ravichandran Ashwin is once again the toast of the Indian team. 2015 has been annus mirabilis for the 28-year-old offspinner as he rampaged through Australian tour, World Cup, and Bangladesh tour with splendiferous success. Cricket experts, who were baying for his blood not too long ago, are now showering eximious encomium upon him.

Supremely self-confident and articulate, he talks as incisively as he bowls. In an exclusive interview, India’s leading strike bowler talks about a brief dry spell he encountered, his critics, deploying variations, Doosra, his equation with MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli, and his life mantras.

Q. You’ve had a wonderful last 6 months. Whether doing well against Australia in the Test series, coming good in World Cup, or emerging as India’s leading strike bowler in Bangladesh, you have not put a foot wrong. Is it the best phase of your cricketing career?

It is definitely one of the better phases of my career. The bowl is coming out really nicely and I am able to pitch the ball where I want to. But I am not sure whether to term it as the best phase of my career. When you say something is ‘best’, the implied connotation is that one cannot do better than this. I think I have the wherewithal to become a better bowler than what I am at present. I always look to improve myself as learning is the eternal process. So, for me, there is no such thing as ‘best’.

Q. How tough was the phase when you were dropped from playing XI of the Test team after the Johannesburg Test (against South Africa in December 2013)? 2014 wasn’t particularly a good year for you.

I asked myself a few questions as to why I wasn’t selected in the playing XI of the Test team. But then I decided not to wallow in self-pity or seek sympathy as it is counter-productive. Rather one must pull up the socks and work doubly hard to upgrade the skills-set. That’s exactly what I did. I spent considerable time in nets pounding away relentlessly. Most of the time people only see the results, not the process.

As for 2014, I don’t think it was a bad year for me. I came out with flying colors in the World T20. I was doing quite well in the ODIs too.

Q. A lot of cricket experts felt that you were using too many variations which affected your rhythm and control. Was that piece of flak justified?

I have a lot of respect for critics irrespective of whether I always agree with them or not. Everyone has an opinion. Critics are paid to express their opinions like other professionals, and I’m absolutely fine with that. I don’t hold anything against them even if I sometimes feel that there is little substance or rationale in their critique. One just has to move on and do the job to the best of your abilities.

Frankly, my focus always is to put my best foot forward and better myself. I have my own methods and mechanism of analyzing my performances. One must know when he is not doing well without anyone else telling him, and then tide over encumbrances by dint of perseverance and assiduity. This is my approach towards cricket as well as life.

Q. Earlier your bowling action was essentially front-on, now it is a bit more side-on. Is it because you have cut down on variations?

First of all let me tell you, variations have nothing to do with bowling action being front-on or side-on. I am still a front-on bowler. As I told you earlier that for me learning is a continuous process so I keep trying new things. I experiment a lot in the nets with different aspects related to my bowling, and then incorporate or pick up new things which I think will add value to my repertoire.

Q. The ICC is cracking down on bowlers with dodgy action. What is your take on the subject?

I don’t have jurisdiction to speak on this subject but I’m all for level-playing field where no cricketer has any undue advantage over others. The ICC obviously thinks that it is paramount to crack down on dubious actions to uphold the spirit and reputation of cricket.

I do spare a thought for those who have been bowling with the same action right from the start of their cricketing careers. And also about youngsters who have modeled their actions by emulating these bowlers. Otherwise, I think it is a creditable endeavor by the ICC.

Q. What is your take on Doosra? Can it be bowled with a clean action?

I cannot assert anything about Doosra with any amount of certainty since I have never used it. I have never felt the urgency to use it. But given the fact that bowling action of so many spinners who use it is being questioned by the ICC, I guess there must be something furtive about it. I honestly don’t know the technicalities pertaining to 15-degree rule as I have never had to deal with it.

Q. Can Carrom Ball, which you use effectively, be a potent alternative to Doosra as both the deliveries cut away from right-handers?

Yes, Carrom Ball can be a potent alternative to Doosra, but it is not a doddle to master it. It takes a lot of practice and skills to use Carrom Ball to good effect as one does not use wrists or shoulders to bowl it. Hence, the amount of purchase and grip one gets from the pitch is completely different in case of Carrom Ball.

Also, one can get Carrom Ball to swerve into right-handers as well with adequate practice and mastery.

Q. As a bowler, how different is your equation with current Test skipper Virat Kohli than with MS Dhoni?

I share the same equation with both of them. I think lucid communication is the key to any fruitful association, and I’ve never had any problem communicating my thoughts as a bowler to both of them. They both have been extremely receptive and co-operative.

I am extremely fond of Virat Kohli. His commitment, passion, and dedication for the game are exemplary. He has come through the ranks and emerged as a role-model for youngsters. He is a wonderful batsman as well as a captain.

Q. Harbhajan Singh and you would be leading the spin attack for India in the impeding Sri Lanka tour. How is it like bowling in tandem with him? Do you guys engage in conversations while bowling in tandem or advise each other?

Harbhajan Singh is a seasoned bowler and a legend in his own right. He is someone whom I have always looked up to. I cottoned on to off-spin after watching him bamboozle Australian batsmen in 2001 series. We do share snippets or notes but it is not like I advise him about how to bowl. He’s too senior and skillful to be told that.

On a lighter note, it amuses me no end when media builds up rivalry between us. I only compete with myself and try to do the right things. I don’t compete with anyone else. The objective is always to push myself to the limit and emerge as a better bowler. I’m sure he feels the same as me.

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