India’s fast bowlers caught everyone’s attention but R Ashwin was a vital cog in the wheel with 13 wickets at an economy of 4.28. He talks to Sriram Veera about evolution in his bowling, the Maxwell wicket and how the team reacted to semifinal loss
When did you feel that this team can do well in this tournament?
It was that game against South Africa. The atmosphere was so electric. I haven’t seen anything like that even in India. It was a special feeling, It was so great to see them (fans) believe in us. That South Africa game, we were buzzing. We were just free and expressed ourselves. We just released ourselves from pressure and we were out there playing freely. In that game, I knew things were really clicking well for the team together. It was also very important that we started off well, especially after what had happened in the Test series and the tri-series before the World Cup. That win against Pakistan, always a special game, in front of the fans really helped for the mood.
How were the celebrations after wins against Pakistan and South Africa?
This team’s captain is a very, very humble man. He loves to keep things simple. So there wasn’t any wild celebrations. And we aren’t like that. I will tell you what I remember from those games after the wins… the smiling, laughing, we would giggle at each other in the dressing room. Just the vibes you get then, that was thrilling. We are a pretty professional unit, we don’t swing to the extremes following a win or a loss. A lot of it has to do with the way the captain handles himself.
Let’s talk about the semifinal. What was the feeling before the chase?
We genuinely believed we could do it. The target was achievable. But we lost wickets and it just went down.
How was the team after the game?
We were pretty flat. I won’t say we were sad and tearful but just flat. Emotionally drained and quiet.
How was the day after the semifinal for you?
It was still hard to believe we lost. It took the entire day for it to sink in. I was with my wife; that helped but still there was this feeling I can’t explain. It took a while. At the end of the day I told myself that I didn’t leave any stone unturned, that I tried my best and did my best. We tried our best as a team and as Dhoni said, we just have to take the good memories of all the things we did well and move forward.
When did the fast bowling form start to change in this World Cup?
Look, (Mohammed) Shami and Umesh (Yadav) have all the talent and quality. They have the shape and the pace. Shami gets the bounce and gets it to seam around. It was all about confidence and getting the taste of success. I feel Mohit Sharma was a special addition to the team. He knows his stuff and is very aware about his bowling and sticks to it with great discipline. Shami and the bowlers started to get rewards when they got more disciplined and also when they started to apply what they learnt during the Test series. What worked for them, what didn’t work for them. Once they started being successful, the entire mood and confidence changed.
How was the team atmosphere. Was there any special stuff you guys did?
Not really. We had some lovely meetings headed by Ravi Shastri (team director), who was very positive. For bowlers, it was all about bowling in pairs, working in packs, being fearless about stuff.
You were instrumental in restricting Australia in the semifinal. At one stage it seemed they might get 400. That over to Maxwell. Can you describe it? That wicket was the difference between Australia scoring 327 and not 375 and it kept India in the game.
It was a combination of all that I have learnt. I got hit a couple of times by him, got him out once or twice. Things are always going to be difficult with this five fielders’ rule. I had done a lot of analysis on him and came to the conclusion that he works well at a certain pace and angles. And through the summer, I have been conscious of slowing down my pace and getting some drift going.
And it is always good for my bowling if a batsman comes after me. Not just because it becomes a challenge, between me and him, but also it genuinely gives me a few options to get him out.
Bowling middle and leg wasn’t the exact plan to get him out. I just wanted to mix it up. So I might flick it, slow it up and make sure he doesn’t settle on a rhythm. That’s what I did.
No great celebration after the wicket, why?
I was pleased with the way I had assessed the situation and was reflecting on it. He had got after me a couple of times and I am not used to it, if you know what I mean. In Mumbai, in the IPL game, I celebrated when I had got him. This time it was just the satisfaction that the planning had come through. It wasn’t just the ball but the set-up, and the plan before the game, that I was happy about. I didn’t’ think there was much celebration to be done!
What are the things learnt through the tour.
IT was an evolution with regard to my own bowling. I now know what I have to do. I started the Test series with basics. I slowly started to improve as the Test matches progressed. I didn’t play much in the tri-series and I sat down and dissected how I was going to bowl in the World Cup. I was down as I wasn’t selected but I thought I should make full use of that period. It wasn’t just about playing, but I wanted to make it big. That was my mantra here. Make it big. That kind of thinking pattern helps. At least to me. To put yourself out there, to dream big. Otherwise, what am I playing cricket for?
In the Tests, I had decided to develop a rhythm. I would decide that I had to bowl long spells and not just reduce my bowling to deliveries in a spell. I started to look at the big picture and the spell as a whole. In this particular over I was going to it toss up, this over probably work on changing pace, and of course, all this keeping in mind what the batsmen was doing. But I changed my thinking from putting everything into one ball and instead looking at the entire spell.
What did you learn from the previous tour here?
I was 24-25 and very raw. All I knew then was to put a lot of revs (revolutions) on the ball and whenever I was in a corner, or under pressure, that’s what I tried to do. Just revv it up. I hadn’t really thought beyond that. I would just try to spin the ball hard.
I would always think of myself as a match-winner. If you are not a force to reckon with, then what’s the point of playing. I just didn’t want to be another member of the squad; wanted to contribute in my team winning. If there is pressure, I wanted my captain to throw the ball to me. In Tests, once I switched my thinking to long spells instead of only focusing on ball after ball, then I stopped trying too many things within an over as the focus is now long-term, on an entire spell. That’ what I have learnt and as Dhoni said, that’s the thing I should not forget.