Ashwin’s career seemed to have reached a new low when he was left out of India’s first Test Down Under last year. Ever since though he’s transformed into India’s most lethal weapon and among the deadliest in the world with the ball, winning back-to-back man of the series awards in Sri Lanka and against South Africa on home soil.
I have always felt that being dropped for that Adelaide Test last year was the biggest turning point in Ashwin’s career. It acted as a blessing in disguise. Sitting out of the first match of such a big series made him more determined to get back to the basics and he put in tons of work. The results are there to see.
He was among the better bowlers in world cricket back then. Now he’s easily the best in the world.
He bowled well in the Tests. But the real Ashwin we see today started from the first practice match of the World Cup. He has a lot of variety of course. But he now believes that he wants to be the best bowler in the world by bowling the best off-spinner. That has really helped him evolve.
He realized that if you want to be the best off-spinner in the world, you have to be absolutely consistent with your off-break. You should be able to trouble the best of batsmen consistently with your off-spin. He said yes I can do that. He’s also always willing to experiment with angles. He asks you a lot of questions. It’s often a challenging job to convince him about the answers you give. I learn so much as a coach when somebody asks me questions. The teacher-student relationship between us is is always interchangeable.
We learn from each other. While experimenting, you hit upon something new, and you then watch videos and see a slight change in your wrist position from a certain angle. He is a bowler who would want to be thoroughly convinced about what is happening. Once he’s convinced he goes about it. He’s got an exceptional skill of the revs he imparts on the ball. Just to be able to do it from different angles convincingly is an art.
I keep getting asked about why he often credits his turnaround to a change in bowling action that I had a role to play with. But there was no major change really.
It was more awareness of what he was doing. He is an engineer and understands angles and drift very well. I guess the awareness of his bowling is what has changed. Empowerment is the key. It’s not about being told. It comes from within. It’s like there’s something inside that was locked. And now it’s been opened up and then you start afresh from there. That is exactly what has happened with Ashwin.
I have never really had to tone his enthusiasm down really. I strongly feel that till you’re not being too analytical always, it’s Ok. You can never be perfect as a bowler. Whatever you achieve, you can always do better. Enjoying the process of achieving, and enjoying the journey is more important at times than just aiming for perfection.
But yes, sometimes you have to stop him from bowling because in his enthusiasm to learn, he can keep on bowling. Over-bowling is as bad as under-bowling. But now, he’s toned it down and he knows when to bowl more and when to give himself a break. One day he will come and say, “I don’t feel like bowling today. I want to take a break and focus on my fielding or batting, which is very good.” He wants to be fresh. If you are constantly bowling, and thinking, you get mentally tired. He’s reached a stage where he says, “Whenever I pick up the ball, I really want to feel like I want to bowl.” That is quite a significant change.
Now Ashwin’s at a stage where he is really enjoying what he’s doing. And being aware of what it is that he’s doing which is helping him enjoy it more makes it that much more sweeter. He’s by far the No.1 bowler in the world. Why shouldn’t he enjoy that?