CHATLINE R. Ashwin, India's newest cricket star, is not all that stern as he looks on the field
W hen Ravichandran Ashwin gives me directions to his house, I ask for the nearest landmark. Little did I realise that his house is now a landmark in itself. A member of India's World Cup winning squad and instrumental in Chennai Super Kings' continuing dominance of the Indian Premier League, Ashwin is today a star. Everybody in the neighbourhood knows where exactly their hero lives.
His living room is occupied almost entirely by cricket paraphernalia. On display are stumps signed by the team, books, innumerable trophies…Of course, now there's also a large framed picture of the victorious champagne-soaked World Cup side from that memorable evening in Mumbai.
“The fact that this win will go down in history makes me cherish it,” says Ashwin.
Ashwin, 24, has been playing cricket since he was eight. He opened the batting as well as bowling for his school (PSBB, K.K. Nagar, Chennai) for its under-10 and under-12 teams, before switching over to St. Bede's (Chennai). “I wanted to play all the time. In school I was an opening batsman and scored a lot of runs. School performances mattered a lot then. Vijay Kumar, my coach at St. Bede's, told me that I'd definitely play for India as an off-spinner,” he recalls.
Although managing competitive cricket and academics simultaneously is always tough, Ashwin didn't want to quit studying. The balancing act, especially when he enrolled himself in an engineering course, required a lot of effort. But success in the league and domestic circuit brought him to the attention of the national selectors. “I was picked for the T20 against Sri Lanka. From then, I have been in the team for every ODI. The first match I actually got to play in was an ODI against Sri Lanka in June 2010.” Being part of the Indian team, he says, has been his greatest success yet. “When I got my Indian Team jersey, I wore it and took a couple of pictures in it,” he smiles, adding that he is lucky to be getting paid to do what he loves most.
Ashwin's first ODI didn't quite have a fairytale ending (India lost to Sri Lanka by six wickets). However, he has been a lucky presence in the matches he has played so far. “Of the 11 ODIs I have played in, we have lost only three, while we won all the T20s I've played in.” What remains now is a Test debut, which he believes is the “king” of all forms of cricket. “Playing a test will be a dream come true. But I am not in a hurry. Results take care of themselves as long as you are honest about what you do. I am constantly trying to innovate and improve. I also love experimenting with my game.”
That apparently is not all he experiments with. “I also like trying out different hair styles…and experimenting with jeans.” The towering bowler has a growing collection of printed T-shirts and flip flops. Each overseas tour sees him adding to his collection of shades and watches with fancy dials and funky bands. His other fascination is cars. “Jaguar and Audi are my dream cars.”
As the interview proceeds, I notice Ashwin is quite chatty and his sentences are often punctuated with a bright smile, unlike the serious, ‘angry young man' persona he brandishes on the field. “I am focussed on the game and maybe that's why people get this impression of me being stern. But, actually, I am told I have a decent sense of humour.”
Ashwin shares a great rapport with Murali Vijay, Balaji, Badrinath and Ganapathi; they have a good time pulling each others legs. Talking of favourite cricketers, he says he looks up to Anil Kumble and admires the fact that he stuck to the basics and has rigid work ethics. Another favourite is Yuvraj Singh. “He has been though ups and downs but is back with a bang.”
So what does he do when he's not tormenting batsmen with the carrom ball? “I play tennis, I am on the PSP with my neighbourhood kids, I go on long drives… I am a foodie and Indian food tops my list.”
Ashwin is currently employed with India Cements and his future plan is to become an entrepreneur and start an enterprise related to cricket. Until then, fulfilling the promise of being India's most valued spin bowler should keep him suitably occupied.
I also like trying out different hair styles…and experimenting with jeans.