I think Dhoni, for the first one year, didn’t know that I existed: Ashwin

Ashwin will be in action against England in the five-match Test series.
Ashwin in action against England during the five-match Test series. (Source: RevSportz)

In the first part, Ravichandran Ashwin opened up about his challenges, equation with the great Sachin Tendulkar, Mankading and a lot more to RevSportz’s Editor-in-Chief, Boria Majumdar. But, in this special episode of the Backstage with Boria, the off-spinner shares his journey of breaking into Team India, glimpses of his love story with wife Prithi and also confirms the arrival of the sequel of his book, ‘I HAVE THE STREETS; A KUTTY CRICKET STORY’.

Boria: Coming to the World Cup but this is not the end, I miss the greatest Indian match-winner, the sequel is coming, part 2 will come, and the Prithi part is not there, so all these, please tell.

Ashwin: We started writing this book around 2020-21 and when we started, it was very organic and raw, very straight from the heart.  I loved the way it came out but it was going into a long sort of a range, very informative and not having boundaries. So, then, I thought that I need to get back to the genre as I needed to tell these stories. I wanted to tell the stories in a very organic manner and I enjoyed the whole journey so far. I did not want to write an autobiography, wanted to share my life experiences with people and if those stories can put a positive impact in someone’s life, I will be happy and that will be an achievement for me.

I have always been fascinated by writing a sequel and the first time I suggested this to the publisher, they were not that much sure. But I told them that I am not writing an autobiography, just want to share the stories and let people see them very closely. Other parts are already done actually, it is there but I broke it down in a section and the last part is a bit sketchy. So, I will start unravelling that sketchy part because, in between 2007 to 2011, it needs more detailing, especially how I broke into the Indian team.   

Boria: That is my question. Tell me the story, how and when you broke into the Indian team and when you wear that jersey, it must have been meant a world to you and then, the World Cup. Tell me about that.

Ashwin: That is what I am telling. If I do not write that part and starts writing a piece where I ran Jos Buttler out, and running and playing for Team India, it does not make any sense. So, I want people to understand who this guy is. Who the child is, because basically here is a child who just grew up, fascinated by playing for India, but what India means to him, how he gets there and learns. Also, there is a South-Indian, Madrasi, and I want that Madrasi to come out.

There is a part where I clearly written that we need to understand India better and India is a fascinating country but there is a wider world. I had to learn and discover. Nobody told me anything. So, why a newcomer from my part of the world has to discover on its own? Let him know what it is like. So, I wanted that part to come out, how was Madras in the 1990s? What we thought about India and how much it was meant for the cricketers? That is why, I finished there and I will begin again slightly behind from the position where I finished.

For the Latest Sports News: Click Here


Boria: What that Indian jersey, cap meant to you? Then, the World Cup win! How did you process that and how long did it take?

Ashwin: When I broke into the Indian team, I have done my hard yards. The whole noise of me getting into the team, came from the performances for CSK. I broke into the CSK team in 2009, played for them 2010 and people hardly knew me, my story of playing first-class cricket, how hard I worked to get into the CSK camp, what I did in CSK, what was my journey with (MS) Dhoni and then, breaking into the Indian team. So, two years between 2009 to 2011, I was running dreams and my opportunities were very few and far (between). In the sequel, I will look to elaborate that in those two years, how I ran dreams, (which) made me much later who I was in 2015 and ‘16. That is why, at the end, I wrote that Gary Kirsten part, as that will allow me to pick up from where I had left.

Boria: You and Dhoni had to be a very local Madrasi love affair. Tell me about that.

Ashwin: I think Dhoni, for the first one year, did not know that I existed. I do not think he knew or maybe he knew and he did not really, that’s Dhoni. I have known him for almost 15-16-17 years from close quarters and with him, I find what he was in 2008-09 is exactly how he operates in 2024. That is fascinating for me and I remember that game in 2010 where he got hit by Shane Bond on his arm, I think at Eden Gardens.

I got a wicket. I got Bond out in that game but he gots hit on his arm and he went out of the side. But I have begun the IPL reasonably well. This is supposedly going to be my first full year in the IPL, and he went out and Suresh Raina led the side. I think they have probably slightly different views in terms of how they handle people. I did not bowl inside the Powerplay. I bowled slightly later because Mutthiah Muralitharan and I were playing in the same team and I ended up bowling at death in Bangalore. I have not had a good time. I had let the team down on three occasions. After that, Dhoni led. But as soon as he came back to captain the side, he picked up the puzzle.

I think he said, ‘I want that guy back’. I came back and he again used me with the new ball because he used me inside the Powerplay against Adam Gilchrist and I got him out in Chennai. And he used me again in those same roles and continuously used me like that for several years to follow. He used me inside the batting Powerplay, even when I played for India. So, I think that is quite a fascinating sort of a belief that he had and he kept it very simple when he told me things.

He always said, your greatest thing, the greatest strength is to try new things, to be funky. So, do not change that for anybody else. I think I told it in that book launch also. I met him in Dubai after a game between Delhi against CSK and I asked him, ‘how you find it’. I have developed that back spin. He said, ‘you are always like that. It has been your strength. Remember, you continue to be funky. Remember, you continue to work on your variations’. I was like, this was what he told me 15 years ago.

The man continued to see the same thing. And then like after a brief pause, he told me again, ‘you know what, I know what you are thinking but that is your strength. So, keep being funky, keep expressing yourself’. Maybe it is not just the cricket that he sees. He sees, more sort of a mental strength side of things, or the mental aptitude side of things. And I find that he did that with Tushar Deshpande also for CSK. So, he continues to do that. He continues to pick people who are good in certain roles and fitting them in.

Ravichandran Ashwin for Team India
Ravichandran Ashwin for Team India (PC: ICC)

Boria: The carrom ball! You started with tennis ball and then, discovering that you can actually do that with the red ball, another fascinating story.

Ashwin: My dad hated me for playing tennis ball cricket but I am thankful, having played that all my life. He used to avoid sending me to play those tennis ball matches, but when he saw Ajantha Mendis bursting onto the scene, he came and said why did not I try the same with a cricket ball! But then I just played for 5-6 years, just broken into the first-class team and then, the WV Raman mentorship, something that I have been thankful for.

As I said, there are several people who have played a role and helped me achieve whatever I have achieved today. Because the turnarounds, how I became a bowler after a batter, how the injury came and I came back and did not bowl, my mom came to a game, asked me to be a spinner, these are the stories that meant to be! After a point of time, if you believe that you are really powerful and successful, then you are just feeling your ego unnecessarily. So, I am someone who has a lot of gratitude for all these people.

Boria: Are you an accidental off-spinner in that sense?

Ashwin: Yes, I think so. I am an accidental off-spinner because I started bowling leg-breaks, as I used to love Shane Warne. Between Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, and Muttiah Muralitharan, we used to have chats in the house and then, Harbhajan (Singh) became famous after that 2001 series. I have always loved Warne because he was the showman, the grace the he used to bring to the table and an artist within those 22 yards, and it fascinated me.

But when I started to bowl leg-breaks, I understood how tough it was and started to gain respect for Anil Kumble. It was one of my academy games where I bowled a leg-spin and they did not give me more than two overs. Then, I decided to become an off-spinner. At least I could put the ball into the stumps while trying that. So, when I started to bowl those off-spins, people started to like me whatever I was doing. There is a story in the book where my coach told me not to give my name in the selections.

I am thankful for that guy also as I left school and joined college and he said, ‘mark my word, you will one day play for Team India as an off-spinner’. When I left school, I was doing very well as a batter. There was a high chance that I quit my off-spin because of that. But he used to call me once in three months to ask whether I was bowling or not.

Boria: The coach said to you that this is what it is and it has been told that nobody can beat you in arguments. But you are the only one who will silently go and start practicing on what has been told to you. Give me that story.

Ashwin: Look, I thought that if I do not argue, then I will not get criticism or get to dig deeper into something. There have been several coaches and instances again and again where I keep questioning people. If I do not ask enough questions, I do not get enough answers. It was written also, (by) Rahul Dravid. In this sport, right advise does not always come from people very immediately. They just wait for you to come and ask those questions.

The first thing that a coach says to you that he needs to change this or that. But until and unless I am convinced to change something I want, on my own, I am really powerful at it, getting it done. So, I realised that the more I question, the more I argue, the more I will find the right answers. But somewhere it happens that when you question right, it turns into an argument, because people feel very challenged. I have never changed this attitude but I think this attitude came to me from my dad. He used to question me a lot, question people a lot. So, I started to get that as a habit and once I started questioning people, I started to find answers.

This is a very powerful tool. Maybe, people are pissed off but it is okay. If they are hurt, I will be okay to say sorry because my intention is not to hurt. I will ask. I have consistently done that and there was another coach in my school, his name was Raman… I used to do the same thing with him. He used to tell me that I should not open the batting, should bat down the order.

So, I used to keep questioning him, keep finding out whether he was doing that with me to accommodate somebody else or he was justifed to do that. Whether it was best for me. So, I used to keep questioning. He did not like me, removed me from captaincy and put somebody else as captain. So, I used to challenge people. It has cost me, but at the same time, I have benefited more.

Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin
Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin (PC: IPL/X)

Boria: The Prithi story is not here, the love from school time, the World Cup, tell me something.

Ashwin: Things happened too fast. My life between 2008 and 2011 was at treadmill at 25. It ran really quick. Imagine me winning two IPLs, one World Cup and then winning two Champions League trophies. I was the player of the tournament, and I got married. That is a lot and she was the first love. But I could not really pursue my first love.

I had to keep my focus on something which was the real priority, as my game was taking off. My health was also there and I was also doing the engineering. Then, suddenly our paths met and that was a burst of too many things happening in my life. So, the next sequel will be on my purple patches as a Test cricketer, but this is where I want to pick it up from where I left.

Boria: Thank you but good luck! The journey does not end here, it is still on.

Ashwin: None of our journeys end Boria, and that is the beauty of life and I really embrace what is in front of me. Thank you so much once again and enjoyed talking about the book, because I really wanted to bring out these stories. So, being a writer, enjoyed it and (it) gave me another feather.  So, thank you so much and really appreciated.

Also Read: I started to play the game out of pure joy and love: R Ashwin