India's premier Test spinner on the debate over sporting pitches, playing England, his rivalry with Graeme Swann, and playing multiple formats.
Chennai: R Ashwin has cemented his place as India's premier spinner, with 49 wickets in eight Test matches. His guile, control and variations have reaped him much success against teams like West Indies and New Zealand, and now the 26-year-old hopes to find more success against England in the four-Test series starting November 15.
Ahead of his departure to Ahmedabad to link up with the Indian squad ahead of the first Test against England, Ashwin spoke to Cricketnext about his bowling, setting up England’s batsmen, his rivalry with Graeme Swann, playing multiple formats and the debate over sporting surfaces. Excerpts...
You performed brilliantly against New Zealand and were adjudged Man of the Series. How different or tougher an opposition England are from New Zealand?
There are no tough or easy opposition in international cricket. All Test teams are quality sides and could beat anyone on a given day. It was wonderful to snap up a flurry of wickets against New Zealand and help India win the series. They had some good batsmen in their ranks - Ross Taylor, Martin Guptill and Brendon McCullum - and I enjoyed my duels with them. As for England, they're a formidable and well-balanced team and compelling cricket will be on display for next one-and-a-half months.
Have you devised different strategies for different batsmen in England team or are you targeting any particular batsman? Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell are two batsmen who play spinners well. Have you studied their strengths and weaknesses?
England's middle order is very strong with the likes of Pietersen, Bell and Jonathan Trott holding the fort. I've studied their strengths and Achilles heel, and definitely have some plans in my mind about how I would going to bowl at them but the key component of planning is to be flexible. This especially holds true in sports as one has to alter their strategies while being on the field depending on the nature of wicket, situation of the match and various other aspects. So, I'm never rigid in my thinking.
I take it one ball at a time. I evaluate how the batsman is playing, and bowl the next ball accordingly. The stratagems are rustled up instantaneously, and I look to bowl with rhythm and control, while trying different variations, as I get into the groove.
Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli have gone on the record to proclaim that this is a revenge series for India as they would like to settle the scores with England for 4-0 drubbing they dished out to India last year. How do you look at the series?
Sehwag and Virat are senior and very sensible cricketers. They must have thought hard before giving this statement. I think they are deeply hurt by what happened to India when we toured England last year so they're determined to perform against this English side. The series victory will soothe the nerves and restore India's pride. The best way I could answer this question is by picking up bagful of wickets and help India rout England.
Graeme Swann has recently said that India lack a mystery spinner like Saeed Ajmal, and England batsmen will have no trouble in countering India's spin attack …
I don't need to comment on what Swann has said. We'd rather demonstrate our wiles and skill on the field. I don't subscribe to all these theories as ultimately your performance on the field counts, rest everything is inconsequential. One doesn't necessarily have to be a 'mystery' spinner to take wickets.
India v England will see the clash of two world-class offspinners, Swann and you. Will it drive you to upstage your English counterpart?
That'll be a treat for the cricket lovers, wont it? Swann is an eminently crafty spinner, in the traditional mould, who has done tremendously well for England over the last few years. He has a lovely, fluent action and flights the ball with appreciable felicity. For England, a lot will depend on how he fares against us.
These phrases like 'clash', 'upstage' and all that jazz are media constructed since they make for a good copy. I don't need Swann to drive me to perform. Playing for India and winning the matches for the country are the biggest motivation. Both of us will try to perform to the best of our abilities and I hope it'll make for some cracking moments.
There's a raging debate going on about the nature of pitches India must produce against England. While one faction, which includes a few Indian players, believes that India must play to their strength and prepare rank turners, some people are of the opinion that sporting wickets are the need of an hour.
First tell me, what is the definition of a sporting wicket? Are these people implying that only seaming tracks are sporting wickets? This is a ridiculously falsified theory propagated by those who want to camouflage their incompetence. When India went to England and Australia, wickets were either seaming or bouncy but we didn't carp that those wickets were not sporting, though we were thrashed. So, why tag spinning pitches as non-sporting? Playing spin requires a set of skills; why disparage it with impunity? A good team or a batsman is the one that could play and perform on all kinds of wickets around the world.
Secondly, I'm not authorized to dictate what kind of wickets must be rolled out for the India v England series. This is not my job. I've no issues playing on any kind of surface. Wait for November 15 and we'll know what is in store for us.
Bowlers hunt in pairs. Does it help matters when another top-notch spinner, Pragyan Ojha or Harbhajan Singh, is operating from the other end?
I know where you're going. Look, the underlying idea is to chip away at wickets so if one spinner isn't having a good day in the field, the other could take up the baton. This is the advantage of bowling in tandem with a quality spinner. It's important that either one of them look to chisel wickets, while the other one could tie the batsmen down by not giving away runs to mount pressure on the opposition. Also, few bowlers bowl particularly well against some batsmen. These all factors combine to forge a fruitful association between two bowlers.
You recently played in the ICC World Twenty20 in September and now the Test series against England. You're one of the few bowlers who have excelled in all three forms of the game. How do you make a seamless transition from one format to another?
To be honest, it's an uphill task to switch from one format to another so rapidly throughout the year. One has to make myriad adjustments as the requirements of all three forms are completely different from each other. In T20s, one could be satisfied with an economical spell even if you haven't rang up a wicket but in Test cricket, not chalking up wickets would be hazardous for the team. In shorter forms, one couldn't experiment much, though variations do come in handy, and each ball must be bowled in the right place; while in Test matches, you've got a lot of time and liberty to try out different things and plan out the dismissals.
It is also imperative to look after your body. In T20s, you could get away with minor niggles but to withstand the rigours of Test matches, one must be in perfect shape as it requires gallons of stamina. The body also takes time to adapt itself to the changing demands of different formats. But the most taxing aspect is to switch your mindset and get into a different zone. One runs the risk of getting lost in the time transition.
As professional cricketers, we're getting used to these things. And I'm glad that I've been able to perform consistently in all forms of the game.