IND vs ENG 5th Test: R Ashwin determined to keep himself at the cutting edge of his craft | Cricket News

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DHARAMSHALA: The greats of the game don’t just have the smarts. They also come inbuilt with a combative edge that fuels a tireless quest for perfection.
As Ravichandran Ashwin gets ready to play his 100th Test, it’s worth recalling the scrawny 20-something who first impressed his childhood coach, not just with off-spin bowling but a rare intelligence and fierce competitiveness.
What first piqued the curiosity of Sunil Subramaniam, the former Tamil Nadu and Assam left-arm spinner who has over the years been Ashwin’s mentor, was an infuriating tactical nous which belied Ashwin’s age.
“He would p*** the coaches off,” Subramaniam told TOI. “I saw him at this age-group camp around 2007 and I was immediately impressed, not because he was the most skilled off-spinner around but because of his powerful personality.

“He had this rare, intuitive understanding of the intricacies of the game. He wouldn’t just follow what he was being told to do. He would challenge the coaches, talk about different things he would try out, different field settings.
“Sometimes he would anger them. But then, the more time I spent with him, the more I realized he was walking the talk. Mentally you could just see he was superior. The numbers will come, because modern cricketers play so much, but he has been a really imaginative off-spinner.”

Taking a walk down memory lane on Tuesday, the master off-spinner himself reiterated that at this stage of his career, it’s not the numbers but the mileage — and the happiness it has brought those who have sacrificed the most — that are significant.
“One of my biggest problems is that I have a giant sized memory,” Ashwin said. “I can go back to the process and remember things which have helped me over the years. But that’s also a big drawback. Just because I have a great memory, people think I value numbers. It doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m not saying it’s not a great feat.”
There were two other early traits which, in Subramaniam’s eyes, marked Ashwin out for greatness. One was the height from which he released the ball. The other was his fingers.

“He is a tall guy and bowling from that height, he could extract bounce and then a little bit of turn. Any off-spinner who can extract bounce from a height is more dangerous than someone who can just turn the ball a lot.
“Finger spinners are generally limited in the amount of revs they can generate, but Ashwin has long fingers, big and strong, and a really powerful index finger. He would use that to give the ball a rip. Also, he always had that drift away from the right-hander. He has now perfected it, of course.”
Any sporting career this long will be marred by periods of downtime and injury, and Subramaniam believes Ashwin was at his peak right from his 200th Test wicket to around the 350-wickets mark.
“That period was fascinating to watch because he worked really hard at setting up the great batters and became a master at it. It became almost impossible for the really good players to go after him. Of course, he has also battled injuries and has often sat out of away Tests,” he said.

Ashwin himself singled out the few batters who have tested him the most. “I’ve loved bowling to Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root. They are some of the finest batters going around the world now. Before I played first-class cricket, I had the privilege of bowling to some of the gun batters of spin. I’ve bowled to Badrinath at the nets and he was one of the finest. Mithun Manhas. Rajat Bhatia.
“These are some of the greatest batters of spin who I would have not wanted to encounter in international cricket. They were my finishing school before I went on to play international cricket,” Ashwin said, adding, “One of the turning points was the England series when Cook came here and made all those runs. When I look back on it, it taught me what I had to correct.

“It’s always disappointing to not play a particular game for your country, especially when you are doing well. But you have to make peace with it because it was in the best interest of the team.”
Subramaniam is convinced the challenges have only made Ashwin more determined to keep himself at the cutting edge of spin bowling. “He is a box of creativity. He has not stagnated mentally. He is also the most competitive cricketer in India.”

It’s painful, this need to constantly innovate to keep oneself relevant. Ashwin does it because he has been blessed with the gift. It’s a tap he can’t turn off.
“It’s been a journey of ups and downs and learnings,” he said. “The journey has been special. It doesn’t change anything as far as playing a Test is concerned.”
Come Thursday, you can bet Ashwin’s mind will be on another Test that has to be won. If the stage is big, he just has to own it.



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