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It will be a herculean task to achieve what MS Dhoni has done as captain, says R Ashwin

The Indian superstar spoke about the Adelaide Test in 2014, MS Dhoni's resignation, and a lot more.

Ashwin was named ICC Cricketer of the Year and the ICC Test Cricketer of the Year

Recently, Indian off-spinner, R Ashwin, who was named the ICC Cricketer of the Year and the ICC Test Cricketer of the Year, signed with ITW Blitz, the talent management arm of ITW that manages the likes of Sir Vivian Richards and numerous others. 

In 2016, Ashwin has taken 72 wickets in 12 Tests at an average of 23.90 including 8 fifers. With the bat, his contributions have been equally crucial as the right-hander has scored 612 runs in 14 innings at a healthy average of 43 with 4 fifties and 2 centuries.

In the three ODIs he played, he took 3 wickets as well as 23 T20I wickets in 17 matches at an average of 16.17.

During a press conference in Chennai, Ashwin spoke about a variety of issues including the Adelaide Test in 2014 (a big turning point in his career), MS Dhoni’s resignation, his bowling and a lot more.

Here are some of the excerpts:

You had a great 2016 that saw you win several laurels. Did you achieve all the goals that you set for yourself?

I didn't set any goals for 2016 apart from the fact that I wanted to be the most valuable player in the team. I wanted to be a decisive factor in the team’s win.

I don’t even know where I celebrated the new year, that’s how busy the year was. The only regret I have is not spending enough time with my family. 

How do you assess yourself after a day’s play or after a match?

Last year, I learnt a lot of lessons. Whenever the ball did come out well, I ended up taking a fifer. When the ball did come out well, I ended up wicketless just like the last Test (5th Test against England). Those are the kinds of lessons I am looking to learn every single day. 

Is this the best you have ever bowled in your life?

The offie is in the form of his life

Definitely, I'm currently in one of my better phases but I wouldn’t say this is the best. I think the best times could lie ahead, you never know. Every time, that I thought this was the best I'm bowling, I always managed to surprise myself, which is a good thing. I just hope it continues and I keep getting better and better.

The big news in the last few days is MS Dhoni resigning from captaincy. What are your views on that? Can he be replaced easily?

He is going to be available to play as a player. But he has had an illustrious career as a captain. There are a lot of leadership lessons even for bigger leaders out there. Earlier, Sourav Ganguly began a fighting phase in the early 2000s. MSD also came from that phase to a certain extent.

After that phase, there were talks that no one could achieve something like that again. Those are emotional statements and it happens when such illustrious names leave. We are an emotional country. I feel the question of will there be anyone to take forward (lead) the Indian team in itself is wrong.

Virat Kohli’s record in Tests the last year have been very good. I'm sure MSD saw that and only then decided to pass the baton on. Whether someone can achieve what Dhoni has achieved remains to be seen, it will definitely be a herculean task.

Expectations are always high when you step on the field. How do you take that into perspective going forward?

Expectations are bound to mount every time you do well. Every time you don’t, people are let down and if the team doesn’t do well, it’s going to be magnified that much more. But that’s the only reason I play this game. I’m not playing for anything else. I’m not playing for high rewards. I’m playing for the fact that I think I love this game much more than anybody else in the world.

The expectations and how people push me down or criticise me when I'm not playing well is just made for me. If you are going to challenge me, I'm just going to look improve and try and beat you. The day I don’t, I’ll probably call it quits.

This year you are playing just 5 Tests at home. What are your strategies when you go to overseas?

In Sri Lanka, I would like to bowl the same way I did the last time because I bagged the Man of the Series award there. In South Africa, I played only one Test and then I didn’t play the second match of the series. Definitely, I want to do well in South Africa.

They are a terrific team but they lost 3-0 here. The conditions will be difficult back there. It’s important to acclimatise the same way I did during the West Indies and Sri Lanka tours. After South Africa, I have to plan how to bowl in England and Australia. As far as I'm concerned, I have bowled well in Australia. The plan is to figure out how to do well in England.

One thing that stood out last year was your batting. Could you tell us what work has gone into that department?

Ashwin has made some noteworthy contributions with the bat lately

As far as my batting is concerned, Sanjay Bangar has been an influential character. He gave me open feedback on my batting and told me how bad it was. He helps me whenever I am with the Indian team.

On other occasions, I have an unconventional coach with me in Chennai, Mr Srinivasan, who works with me in the academy. We did some work on my batting. Precisely, before every series, we tried to replicate the bowlers that I would be facing.

For example, before the New Zealand series, we tried to replicate Boult’s left arm over the wicket bowling but missed out on his left arm around, which is exactly how I got out in the Kanpur Test.

Even before the England series, we tried to replicate Ben Stokes’ reverse swing, as well as the spinners’ variations. It’s constant work in progress. We try out different scenarios for ODIs. That's another unconventional method that has been working like magic so far.

Do you think MS Dhoni could have stayed as captain for a bit longer? 

It’s an individual’s decision. There is nothing I can comment on it. It’s a professional world, it’s his call and we have to respect it.

You recently tweeted about the conversation that went on during the 2013 Champions Trophy finals. What was the discussion at that time? 

Before I bowled the last over in that match, we had this five-fielder rule (inside the circle). I think it was a power play, I can’t remember and we needed to have an extra fielder inside. There was a discussion on which fielder had to come in and I told Dhoni that there is no point in thinking about it because I first need to ensure that the ball lands properly (laughs).

The first ball or second ball was a full toss and Broad swept me for a boundary. Whatever fields I set that day worked. The fields set for Ishant’s over were spot on. The communication and conversation throughout the game was fantastic. The kind of feeling that we had was unbelievable after that match. That has to be one of the highest points of my life. 

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