“Even if I was born a beggar, I would have been the best beggar in the city.” “I don’t want to be a pre-existing clause; I always want to be the contractual clause.” These are not some light-hearted quotes from R. Ashwin in his interaction with this newspaper on Thursday.
The world’s No.1 all-rounder, who has been breaking Test records at will, says the statements show his insatiable appetite for excellence that has made the cricketer he is today. “I have played a significant part in every single Indian victory ever since I started playing for the country. I am not saying it in a tone of arrogance or cockiness. That’s what I have strived hard to achieve. I want to be the decisive factor wherever I go. Once I become the best beggar in the city, I would want to be the best in the country and so forth. I am happy the way I am.”
How would you like to end the last leg of India’s long home season that culminates with the four-match Test series against Australia?
I’m going to look at the series as a 20-day programme. I will try to get through the 20 days. My injury concerns have been a bit of an issue. It was on the back of my mind in the last two series. Against New Zealand and England I could perform only 60-70 per cent of my potential. I’m trying to get better and put more strength on my body. Sports Hernia is something that can’t be managed easily. It’s been a big challenge for me. It takes a lot of time to warm up these days. For me, trying to phase out the 20 days is very important. I will get there in the most effective manner.
Australian opener David Warner has made it clear that he has a game plan for you…
Honestly, I don’t have any plans for him. Aussies are all fine players. Steve Smith is going to be the most important player for them. Test cricket is not like T20 or one-day where you come up with a single plan and succeed in executing it. You have to try and restore balance and intensity over a five-day period. Warner is a massive player and he can change games around in a session. But, he can’t come and play on the fourth day like he does on the first. I think we have got enough resolve to stop him. Test cricket is not just delivering one decisive blow on that particular day. It’s going to be a long-haul challenge and how well one starts is going to dictate the series.
Steve Waugh once called Mutthiah Muralitharan the Don Bradman of bowling and now he has given that title to you. Do you see yourself emulating Murali?
In reality, that’s not something I am looking at. It’s a massive achievement to go anywhere near Murali’s tally of 800 wickets. If I get there, it would be like surpassing my human limit. I started playing Tests a bit late and I have always fought against the odds. And, I don’t think I would want to extend one wicket more than what Anil Kumble (619) achieved. That’s a matter of honour.
Be it a player from an India camp (Cheteshwar Pujara) or from the opposition (David Warner), they all feel that the strength of Ashwin, the off-spinner, is the ability to think like a batsman…
The fact that I was a batsman in my junior days has been a major help. I understand the batsmen’s psyche. I love the game so much, I watch it all the time and even coach some boys at my academy. I go to games that make no sense and I still watch them. All these give me different perspectives on the game. But sometimes, it’s counterproductive as batsmen are wary of me and they think twice before taking a chance. As a result, probably, they take fewer risks against me than someone else. And that’s when I go one step ahead and give a loose ball away. Over the last two years, I have been doing a lot of this and that’s why I look boring.
There seems to be a pattern in the way you take wickets. It takes some time for you to get the first and the rest comes in clutches…
It has something to do with the spell you are going through. Sometimes, I find myself coming a little late in the spell when the batsmen are already set. It takes time to break them down. I don’t get to bowl those 10 to 12-over spells anymore. I’m bowling shorter spells because we play five bowlers. Virat also likes to use me that way. It can also be said that I’m taking a bit of time to get into a rhythm. Make no mistake, wickets are extremely slow in India these days. You have to get your pace right, not just through the air but also through the action.
When you talk about rhythm and the ball coming out of your hand like a “dream”, what exactly does it mean?
It’s the drop. When I’m on top of my game, I make the batsman defend on the front foot, force him to make mistakes and the ball hits the sticker of the bat. When he goes back, more often than not, it’s for the fuller ball. I dictate every single phase of his game; the defence, the drive and the chip. When I’m doing that I believe I’m in my best place.
Between the second innings of the Chennai Test against England and the Hyderabad match against Bangladesh, there was a dry spell of 50-odd overs before you finally ended the drought with Shakib al Hasan’s wicket…
There have been spells where I bowled well without success. But I try and turn things around. That particular day at Chepauk, it nicked off, catches were dropped, some didn’t carry and lbws didn’t go my way. It happens. It was a bitter pill for me to swallow. If I hadn’t bowled that well, I wouldn’t have worried.