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India vs England, 5th Test: The ‘uncomfortable’ genius of R Ashwin

The off-spinner, who is on the cusp of playing his 100th Test, believes staying uncomfortable is a very important trait to have in international cricket.

A few stumbles and speed breakers are inevitable in the journey of any cricketer who has played 100 Tests and more. In R Ashwin’s case, the path has been much more convoluted. He has been dropped from overseas Tests far too often for a spinner with his track record. When he has claimed a bagful of wickets at home, the spin-conducive surfaces have been brought up by some critics to downplay his achievements. Injuries have also come in the way at times when he was bowling well outside the subcontinent, resulting in sly digs about his lack of athleticism and overall fitness.

India’s R Ashwin during a practice session (PTI)

Despite all that, Ashwin will reach a milestone, against England, on Thursday that serves as the ultimate endorsement of his longevity – he will become the 14th Indian cricketer to play 100-plus Tests. That he will do so while basking in the snow-capped Dhauladhar range, which envelops the HPCA Stadium on the northeastern side, should certainly add to the charm of the moment.

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Statistical highs, of course, have adorned Ashwin’s Test career right from the time he took 22 scalps in his maiden series against West Indies at home. But as he sat down in front of the media on Tuesday to acknowledge the impending landmark, he reflected on a journey that’s personally been about much more than just the impressive numbers and records.

“More than the destination, the journey has been very special. I can say it’s been a wonderful journey with lots of ups and downs. The game has given a lot to learn over the years. I really cherish the journey I have had. One thing that will make me proud is not the number of wickets, runs, or number of games. It’s that I’ve always remained very uncomfortable. Staying extremely uncomfortable is a very important trait to have in international cricket, more so if you’re an Indian international cricketer,” Ashwin told reporters.

Ashwin’s resilience and urge to constantly improve are traits that are widely admired. As is his ability to problem-solve and work out a batter in the middle of a bowling spell. They may seem like inherent facets of his razor-sharp personality, but Ashwin recognised the 2012 series against England as “one of the turning points” in his evolution. For context, Ashwin, having had difficulties dismissing Alastair Cook in particular, was facing scrutiny over his spot in the team as India suffered a rare series defeat at home.

“Leading into the next series against Australia at home, I was on the verge of being left out,” he recalled. “At that time, it was a bit nervy because I did not know where it came from. I was very young and I felt, ‘Is that all? Is that the time I’ve got here?’ But when I went back and reflected upon it, there was one thing that dawned on me about what was wrong with me. And that is a wonderful lesson I have still kept with me all these years down the line. Unless there is something wrong with you, people aren’t going to point fingers at you. Ever since, it’s been about addressing downs and troubleshooting all the questions thrown at me. Some of the questions I raised myself mostly. To reflect on the downs and work on them has been a motivating factor for me. Correcting mistakes is an ability I have acquired over the years and I am thankful for the game to have given that to me.”

When the seemingly touchy subject of his omission for some overseas Tests – most recently the World Test Championship (WTC) final against Australia in June 2023 – was brought up, Ashwin didn’t shy away from discussing it.

“It’s always disappointing not to play a particular game for your country when you know you’re bowling well and all that,” Ashwin reflected. “But I make peace with it knowing that the decision was made in the best interests of the team. I don’t think any captain or coach wants to leave out a player that they believe can be of use in that particular game. Even though you are disappointed, you have to come around to the fact that it is a team game. Not a lot of teams around the world have what India has. The person who’s taking my place is Ravindra Jadeja. He has been batting really well and that’s where he has outscored me. I have made peace with it.”

To focus only on the tough phases though would be doing a disservice to the starring role he has played as an off-spinner in many of India’s victories over the past decade. Among Indians, only Anil Kumble has more Test wickets — 619 — than Ashwin’s 507. Ask Ashwin to pick out his best spells, and the selections that he comes up with are indicative of his individuality.

“When you finish, it is Test wins that stand really tall. But having given it a lot of thought, one of the finest spells I have bowled has to be the one in Birmingham in 2018. I got three wickets on the morning of day three. I got Cook, (Joe) Root and (Keaton) Jennings. I got seven wickets in the game. I felt like I had almost bowled India to victory in the game, but it didn’t happen. Then there was a Test in Bengaluru (against Australia in 2017) where I bowled a spell on the morning of day two, not for many rewards. And day one at Centurion in 2018 against South Africa. I got a four-for. It could have been six or seven but it didn’t happen. That was a good spell. Those are three spells that will stand out. There are several fifers and wins over the years, but these are the spells I will remember for how it came out of the hand and what it meant personally,” Ashwin said.


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