Having context for Test cricket is amazing, says Ashwin

As he looks forward to the WTC final, R. Ashwin says it is important the classical format stays healthy

Ahead of the World Test Championship final, R. Ashwin spoke to The Hindu about his 10-year Test journey, his evolution as a spinner and the title clash against New Zealand. Excerpts:

What is your mental state ahead of a long tour, after the tough times you had personally during the IPL?

It is quite difficult. It is not as easy as it looks because every time you have to go through quarantine. You have experience in your head but still nothing like going and adapting. You are rusty with your skills with limited practice. At the same time, every time the feeling is quite fresh and that’s also exciting because you feel like you are starting all over again.

It has been 10 years since your Test debut. You are India’s fourth-highest wicket-taker (409) and not far off Harbhajan Singh’s (417) and Kapil Dev’s (434) tally. What has the journey been like?

I find myself in one of the happiest phases of my life. I am enjoying my cricket. I am not looking too far ahead. I wouldn’t do it for a simple reason because if you want to enjoy the moment, you have to stay in the present and embrace it. The first and foremost goal is the WTC. To look beyond the next Test or tour is something I have gone past. But to be putting myself on a list as elite as this is a matter of pride. I never expected to get this far in my life. I have been an optimistic person, but if you look back at my life, to play India U-17 and U-19 as a batter and just starting to bowl off-spin, I have come a long way.

What is your assessment of the WTC as a concept?

I think it is always going to get better. The idea of having some context to the whole Test arena is amazing. It was long pending and I’m so pleased the ICC have done it. There are areas that will be addressed. But considering the pandemic, they have done a phenomenal job. To keep Test cricket healthy going forward is healthy for the world cricketing arena. The more Test cricket is played the more cricketers are going to get rounded. It will help other forms of the game as well. 

Your thoughts on the final against New Zealand?

We have played good cricket to get to the WTC final and we are deservedly there. They are a fantastic team and have a lot of exciting cricketers coming through. The fact that they would have played a couple of Test matches before the final will be good preparation for them. So we have to adapt, use our experience and be ready for it.

From being seen as a spinner with variations early in your career, in recent times it feels like you have succeeded with more subtle variations. Can you elaborate on your evolution?

I feel the general understanding of the game is still nascent in our country. For a lot of cricketers, perception precedes them. When I came to play Test cricket, I was seen as someone who had a lot of variations. But in my entire career, I would have bowled only 2-3% carrom balls. In 2012 against England, I picked 14 wickets but people dissected that I was trying too much and needed to go back to basics. What was happening was, I was missing my length. It is a basic mistake and a crucial aspect of a spinner. In my career, I have had to leave some aspects behind to acquire something and take my game higher. Things like a change of angle, seam position like cross-seam, is something I have started to do a lot more now, which I agree. But I have a lot of subtle variations and I have been doing these things for a long time. It is just that it is being noticed now.

New Zealand has quite a few left-handers. What makes you so successful against them?

I would like to think that it is because I challenge both sides of the bat. I get a batsman out through the inside edge and the outside, and get the slip, short-leg, silly-point into play. Also the change of angle, I go over the wicket and to the extremes for around the stumps also. So challenging both sides of the bat gives me the edge.

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