No competition between Harbhajan and me: R. Ashwin

Krishna Chopra / 14 July 2015

The past few months have been extremely fruitful for India’s premier off spinner R. Ashwin. Ashwin has been enjoying a purple patch since the 2015 World Cup commenced. Ashwin these days is India’s trump card and his ten overs often dictate the success of team India. Be it test captain Virat Kohli, or limited overs skipper MS Dhoni, everyone has shown utmost faith in Ashwin. Ashwin too feels humbled and honored that his skippers are showing great faith in him.

In an exclusive interview, Ashwin spoke about various aspects. When quizzed about any competition with fellow offie Harbhajan Singh, Ashwin said that he didn’t compete with anyone, but just focused on his individual performance.

Below, are the excerpts of his interview with the Times of India:

From a not-so-impressive 2013-14 to being hailed by many as one of the best spinners of 2014-15.where did the change happen?

The change was probably from not being a spinner at all in 2013 to where I am right now. It was a difficult phase. Some fade away thinking that they have got a raw deal, but I wanted to make sure that I got better. It is a fact that I could not win India a Test match on the last day in Johannesburg (in Dec 2013). The next Test match, I was not playing.

I didn’t know what I was doing, where I was placed and there were a lot of questions in my head. I kept thinking whether I should make adjustments to the way I play cricket, understand cricket, but I decided to stick to the skill and ended up giving a fair criticism of myself. And yes, I was honest to myself.

On the technical front, what were the changes?

I have always been a gutsy bowler. Now I looked at the basic things like how I am loading up, what is the speed of my arms as I bowl. As I went deeper into it, I started rediscovering myself. There were times when I felt like a proper cricket scientist. No, I wasn’t desperate, but I wanted to be the best that I can be and learnt a lot in the process A spinner has to constantly upgrade himself, he is like a software where there has to be a version 2, version 3. When you stop upgrading you probably need to take a reality check of yourself.

But too much upgradation can come across as too much experimentation…

In the past, you played a few months of cricket and the rest was a break where you could work on your game. But now the upgradation has to happen latest. I don’t bother experimenting with my action and that’s why I am under the microscope all the time. But I don’t mind that. I know I will be criticized, I will draw a lot of flak, but I won’t give up on trying. I know that until I lose a few things, I won’t win a few.

Are you planning to add new deliveries to your armory?

There are a lot of imaginary ideas that come to my mind but I haven’t put a practical thought to it yet, but yes I have a few things in mind. There is the T20 WC this season, so I have to plan longterm. At the end of the day, there are two deliveries, one that spins in and other than spins out…maybe I will try to mask it a bit more.

Have you set any targets for the new season?

I don’t have numbers in mind. I thought the spell that I bowled in Bangladesh was one of my best. It’s not about getting five wickets, it was the way I constructed the spell that made it special.

But you have got five-wicket hauls before. So how was it different?

It wasn’t. For me a five-wicket is as good as a 100 or 150. I set the benchmark and if I don’t get a five-wicket haul it’s a failure.

How has your equation with new captain Virat Kohli been?

The communication has been very good. We have grown up playing together and he might have learnt a few things from me just as I might have learnt a few from him. We have great mutual admiration and he is extremely hard working, setting a great benchmark for the younger generation. We were absolutely bang on in the Test match in Bangladesh.

How do you compare MS Dhoni and Virat’s handling of spinners? Did you ever feel in your career that you were used as a defensive option?

This is a very hard comparison and as far as I am concerned there has been no communication gap with any of my captains. If I want something I will tell that openly, if the captain doesn’t want that from me, I am okay with it. If the team wants me to shut shop, I will do that. If the team wants me to act as the sniper, I am ready to do that as well. Just that a bowler sometimes draws a bit of flak for bowling according to the team’s necessity.

The back-up spin options don’t look too good at the moment.

It happens from time to time for every country, and then there will be more talented people cropping up. My only concern is the way I can contribute and I would be happy to do it positively .

If Bangladesh was any indication, there might be long periods in Sri Lanka when you and Harbhajan Singh will be bowling together. How do you see it going?

If we are the two best spinners available, we will play together. But if the scenario demands a left-arm spinner or any other spinner coming in, then probably a who-replaces who situation arises. I’m not bothered about it at all. There is no competition between me and Harbhajan, in fact I don’t see anybody as my competitor. I want to set my own benchmarks and test myself against those. I love a line in the film 3 Idiots -`kabil bano (be competent)’. You have to be eligible to be the best and I try to make myself eligible to become best.

What’s your take on the new ODI rules?

The bowlers in the last 10 will be getting a little more allowance, taking away the power plays is not that bad an option either. I sometimes bowl at the death and having one extra fielder back might not be a bad option, but I have to play to know how good or bad it is.

You are an astute thinker of the game. Is Indian vice-captaincy an ambition?

I never settle for small things, my ambition is to be the best that I can be. I don’t aspire to be a vice-captain or a captain, that is left to people who make decisions, but if there’s a responsibility that is to be taken over I will be open to it. But whoever is in charge will always get my support.

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