R Ashwin, Sunny Gavaskar and not losing hope

Sunil Gavaskar and Ravichandran Ashwin's relation to Banned
Sunil Gavaskar and Ravichandran Ashwin’s relation to Banned (PC: RevSportz)

I may have been away from cricket, but there were occasions in the two years when I realised that, even in cricket, not all was lost. My rather surprising meeting with Ravi Ashwin was one such occasion. On my flight back after the deferred England-India Test match at Edgbaston in July 2022, I was pleasantly surprised to find Ravi Ashwin, one of my favourite players and someone I know really well, in the seat immediately in front of me.

It had been Mayank Agarwal on the way to Birmingham. Now, it was Ashwin. The cricket Gods, it seemed, were intent on testing me. I had known Ashwin for years, and he is someone with a mind of his own—a rebel in his own sort of way. He is not just one of the best bowlers India and the world has seen, but also extremely feisty and strong-willed. Anyone who watched him bat in extreme pain at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2021 would know what I am referring to. He speaks his mind and isn’t afraid to be politically incorrect. In fact, one of the best interviews I had done for RevSportz was with Ashwin, where he opened up on issues of mental health, how he planned his game and what cricket meant to him. With Ashwin, you could always speak your mind without fear of being judged.

Soon after we bumped into each other on the flight, he asked how things were with me. ‘I did not want to call you then, for it did not feel or seem right,’ he told me. ‘At times, it is best to just let things be and not ask. That’s the best way with friends. I did not need to call you to tell you I am your friend. We both know it. I know you have the ability to get things right and, over time, you will. You love the sport, and your work speaks. It will be alright.’

Simple words that made a lot of sense. What could he have said to me at the time? A call would only have made things awkward. Ashwin wasn’t a journalist and, for him, I wasn’t a story. I was somebody who was going through a rough time. He wasn’t judging me. Nor was he judging The Cricketer. He did not know what really happened, nor was he keen on gossip. He thought it best to give me some space. I appreciated what he said, and neither of us spoke more about the issue. Instead, we had a chat about the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), and how keen he was to get back to playing T20 cricket with the World T20 in Australia. Let me state it clearly – it wasn’t an interview but rather a casual conversation between two people who had known each other more than a decade.

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

After we landed, I was waiting for Trisha Ghosal to join me, for we had a connecting flight to Kolkata. Ashwin was on a flight to Chennai and needed to rush. I was surprised to see him waiting for me at the top of the escalator. He said he had something to say before we parted ways. ‘This will test you, but if you are true to yourself, you will come through it well,’ he said, before wishing me luck. Certain relationships are not defined by self-interest. My association with Ashwin is one such.

The other cricketing relationship I want to talk about here is with Sunil Gavaskar. Sunny bhai, as we all respectfully call him, will forever remain a benchmark in Indian cricket. When I was working on the book, Sachin@50, it was but obvious that I’d call Sunny bhai for a piece on Sachin. This is what he said to me on the phone, “I have got 500 requests to write something on Sachin. I have said no to 499 requests. But to you, I will not say no. Will write the piece for you, for I know you will do something that stands out.”

Within four hours, he had sent us a 1400-word piece and, may I say, one that was loved by everyone!

Each of these incidents had given me hope that one day, truth will surely prevail. With Banned: A Social Media Trial, it is all out there finally.

Also Read: Should it be Chahal ahead of Bishnoi in T20 World Cup?