Why Ravichandran Ashwin took a spin to the Midlands
Superstar Indian cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin is considered the best spin bowler in the world.
His ability has earned him recognition as Cricketer of the Year by the International Cricket Council, making him one of only three Indians to win the prestigious accolade.
But Ashwin always always feels he can improve his game and his continued search for greatness this year brought him to the Midlands and New Road.
“I have always wanted to play county cricket from a child,” said Ashwin, who spent the final months of the summer helping Worcestershire win promotion from Division Two of the County Championship.
“I played cricket after watching county cricket on TV, which was very premium, and I feel it was very important to come over here.”
Ashwin is the quickest Indian bowler to have reached 50, 100, 150, 200 and 250 wickets in Test cricket. He is, quite simply, a batsmen’s worst nightmare.
But the 31-year-old felt playing in County Championship would teach him new things.
The weather in England means the ground is typically more moist than in his native Asia, where the hot temperature makes the playing surface a lot more dry. The desire to learn in somewhat alien conditions was a chief motivation.
Ashwin’s arrival at Worcestershire was seen as a huge coup for the club but Pears director of cricket Steve Rhodes was the first English coach to approach him.
“There was an opportunity that came my way,” he said. “I always believed that whoever comes first needs to be given the first priority, and Worcester were first and I had no qualms in choosing them.”
But he did not solely make the journey across the world to experience county cricket. There was something of an ulterior motive.
India are touring in England next year, and Ashwin wants to get gain experience of playing in this country, to help his national side next summer.
“That is definitely in the back of my mind,” he said. “But that is not the sole purpose of getting here.”
Working with Worcestershire’s cricketers has allowed him to pick up new tips.
But equally, Ashwin was keen to give something back.
“What knowledge I have, I have definitely tried to pass on to people here,” he said. While Worcestershire’s brilliant campaign was very much a team effort, there can be no doubting the Ashwin’s arrival in mid-August gave their title charge a vital spark.
Taking 20 wickets – including five in the promotion (and title) clinching win over Durham – he also averaged more than 40 with the bat as the Pears beat much-fancied rivals Nottinghamshire to the crown.
“The boys have been great,” said Ashwin. “They have been very keen in terms of asking questions. It was very satisfactory for me to try to pass on my knowledge to them, and if they can improve I will be very happy with that. I have felt very welcome here.”
Back home, Ashwin plays for Rising Pune Supergiants in the Indian Premier League, a sporting league that generates lots of money. He gets paid around a million pounds a year to play for them. The league, as a brand, was this year valued at £4billion.
But how did he evaluate the playing conditions at New Road?
“It is not so much like it is a subcontinent pitch,” he said. “I think it is one of those really slow pitches with not a lot of bounce and when I made my debut it was one of those English days that it was more important for me.
“The first time I played it was wet all the time and the ball was a bit greasy.
“These are the kind of things that you come over here for, to try and make sure you get ahead of conditions, and you have the experience and next time can improve.”
Ashwin said he heard a lot about New Road before going to play there. He saw it as a personal challenge.
But he didn’t make the journey to rack up impressive personal numbers. This was all about taking part in a new experience and seeing what he could learn. Ashwin focused on the team, not himself.
He said: “I was trying to make a difference for the team in the promotion push.
“But most of it is the experience that I am looking at, what’s on offer and different opportunities.
“These kind of stints are definitely a learning process.
“More than anything else, hitting targets can actually mean getting ahead of yourself.
“It is important that you stay in the present and learn every single day. These are tours that are especially designed so that you can learn and take as much as possible out of it, rather than looking to set targets. And targets are something that you can keep setting as and when you are bowling or batting in the middle.”
He added: “You come over here to try to experience, to try to know how much better you can be. I think I gained massive insight coming over here to play.”
Asked if he held anything back when coming up against England Test players so not to reveal any tricks, Ashwin said: “That is a bit of a yes and no.
“If can get them out, you have one up on them. Probably that’s how I look at it. At the end of the day these are first class games and you have to compete really hard, you can’t really take steps backwards.”