Leg spinner M. Ashwin on his first-class debut, representing Tamil Nadu, in the Ranji Trophy match against Odisha, his inspiration, dreams and more

Leg-spin bowling, most cricket die-hards would agree, is one of the game’s most breathtakingly seductive and hard-to-master art forms. Some of its finest practitioners have infused life into many a cricketing chapter.

For those growing up in the 1990s, the sight of Shane Warne flashing his blonde mullet and letting rip his fizzing leg-breaks was something surreal. M. Ashwin was one of those wide-eyed boys mesmerised by the Australian virtuoso.

With Anil Kumble as his other idol, Ashwin’s initiation into leg-spin was well-founded. About 14 years later, he has realised one of his more important dreams — representing the Tamil Nadu cricket team. The State has produced a few distinguished leg spinners in the past, most notably V.V. Kumar and L. Sivaramakrishnan.

“I started bowling leg-spin when I was six after watching Warne and Kumble. I, then, attended C.S. Suresh Kumar’s academy,” says the 22-year-old, who made his first-class debut in Tamil Nadu’s rain-hit Ranji Trophy match against Odisha at Cuttack recently.

Having played for the State in age-group cricket, Ashwin acknowledges the support of India Pistons, the first-division side he turns out for in the Chennai league. “They have played a very important role in my career. It’s my seventh year with the team and for the last four seasons, I have been a regular member. My college — SSN — gave me a scholarship in the first year and has supported me well too,” smiles Ashwin, a qualified mechanical engineer.

The cheerful youngster remembers with gratitude the contribution of three fellow cricketers in the first division circuit. “[S.S.] Pon Xavier, [K.] Martin Sanjeev, and [S.] Kiran Prasath have always been there for me, pushing me to do better. Sanjeev would always tell me, ‘Get a five-wicket haul and see how your career would progress.’”

By his own admission, Ashwin’s “breakthrough season” came in the first-division league last year. “I picked up 43 wickets then [34, this season]. That really set things up nicely.”

Evolving work ethic

He feels his work ethic has evolved considerably over the last year. “I have worked hard on my consistency and discipline but I need to do more. My fitness level has certainly increased. I make sure I bowl at least an hour every day… a lot of bowling to a single stump, working on the stock delivery and the googly.”

Ashwin is evidently a happy camper in the company of his Tamil Nadu mates. “I am very fortunate to work with players who have got great knowledge about the game. I keep learning all the time from their preparation. What’s amazing is how everyone is so approachable. I hadn’t played the first two games in the Moin-ud-Dowla tournament, but [Head Coach of Tamil Nadu] VB [Chandrasekhar] sir showed a lot of faith to play me in the final straightaway.”

Ashwin meets Ashwin

He received the Tamil Nadu cap from his more celebrated namesake, off-spinner R. Ashwin. “He asked me to believe in myself and keep doing whatever I had been doing all the while. “

Ashwin’s role-model is his father Era. Murugan, an employee with HCL who also pens dialogues for Tamil films. “I was a good student and had no trouble in balancing academics with cricket. I learnt to multi-task from my father. He would come back from office and then rush to meet Kamal Haasan for his film assignments. I thought, ‘if he could work so hard, so could I,’” says Ashwin, who loves to watch movies and spend time with friends.

He isn’t a big lover of books, though. “My father reads all the time but I stay away from them,” laughs Ashwin, who went to DAV Public School, Velacherry, and Santhome HSS.

So far as his goals are concerned, he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. “The immediate aim is to do well and contribute to the team in the Ranji Trophy. Obviously, it’s my dream to play for India.”