India's No. 1 spinner in Test cricket is hoping to make amends for the defeat to England with a strong showing in the upcoming series.
How easy or difficult an opponent is Australia compared to England?
There are no easy opponents in international cricket. Australia are a young but very talented side. Any team can topple other on a given day so you cannot afford to be complacent. One needs to perform and put in hard yards on the field to win the matches irrespective of who you are playing against. Australia are a good outfit and I think it'll be an exciting series involving two quality sides.
Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey have retired recently. What difference will it make to the outcome of the series? Has the retirement of these two players made things easier for Indian bowlers?
Both Ponting and Hussey were very good batsmen and served Australian cricket with distinction but retirement is inevitable and every cricketer has to call it a day at some point. Australia will miss their experience but they have capable players in their squad to fill in the big boots. Besides, their skipper Michael Clarke is in splendid form and he's a seasoned cricketer. Shane Watson and David Warner have also established themselves firmly in international cricket. So their batting line-up is pretty decent. You cannot under-estimate them at any cost.
Like you said, Clarke is in stupendous touch from the last one and a half years. Have you devised any special strategy to foil him?
I have watched a few videos of his batting and noted down some points but my principal aim would be to stick to a probing line and length and induce him to make mistakes. And that holds true for all the batsmen I would bowl to in the Test series. There's no extra emphasis on any particular batsman.
What went wrong in the England series? The general consensus is that England' spinners - Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar - outshone R Ashwin and you...
We started off the series well by winning the first Test but after that things just didn't go our way. I don't have any excuse for the series loss. I think we must give credit to the England team for the way they pitched in a superb all-round performance. They deserved to win. Alastair Cook led from the front and scored heaps of runs. Their bowlers, including Swann and Panesar, bowled really well. They thoroughly deserved to win the series.
You started the series on a bright note by snapping up nine wickets in the first Test at Ahmedabad but your performance dipped afterwards...
As a cricketer, you always look to improve yourself and enhance your skills. I closely reviewed my performance in the England series and thought deeply about what different I should have done. That's how you learn and pick up new things and back yourself to excel in the future.
Your take on Monty Panesar? He reaped dividends by pushing the ball quicker through the air especially during the Mumbai Test. Do you think you should have adopted the same approach?
Panesar is a wily and highly talented spinner and bowled beautifully during the series against us. As far as adopting Panesar's approach is concerned, I think we both are different type of bowlers. We have our own pace of bowling, approach and strengths. What works for him doesn't necessarily work for me and vice versa. I might completely fail if I try to emulate him and same holds true for him as well. One must focus on his strengths rather than trying to copy others.
How do you and Ashwin complement each other while bowling in tandem?
The core idea is to pick up wickets and contribute to India's victory, so if I am in the element, he tries to keep one end tight and not concede runs. In the similar way, if he's bowling well and nailing wickets at the other end, my objective is to stifle the batsmen for runs. There are days when you're in great rhythm and everything is working for you and there are times when you're slightly off colour. That's when the dominant partner steps up and takes charge. We gel well and understand each other's machinations.
Of late, MS Dhoni has been under fire for his defensive strategies and mindset in Test matches. How do you rate him as a skipper?
Aggression doesn't mean keeping silly point and forward short leg all the time. The captain has to look at various factors while setting the field and taking certain decision. It is wrong and unfortunate to term MS as a defensive captain. As a bowler, I can tell you that he always consults with me about the kind of field I want for a certain batsman or in a particular situation. He listens to my ideas and gives his inputs and thoughts on the topic which I find very useful. He's far away from being rigid and defensive as he's often portrayed by the media.
Your have been performing well in Test matches but your continuous omission from the ODI and T20 squads baffles many people...
I cannot comment on this. I am sure that selectors are keeping a track of my performances and will draft me into the ODIs and T20s whenever they think the time is ripe. I have performed reasonably well in domestic one-dayers and T20s. But you also have to look that selection depends on many factors like team combination, nature of the pitch and how others are doing. I have no complaints; I'm willing to bide my time.