Ravichandran Ashwin interview: On his book, an ode to Chennai gully cricket, and why 3 Idiots was a turning point

Watch: Ravichandran Ashwin interview: On his book, an ode to Chennai gully cricket, and why 3 Idiots was a turning point

Cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin chats about his latest book, I Have the Streets, and why it takes him down memory lane

Updated - June 25, 2024 12:36 pm IST

Published - June 25, 2024 12:29 pm IST

Ravichandran Ashwin has just hit a pull shot and the ball has landed in a temple next door. On the streets of Ramakrishnapuram in Chennai’s West Mambalam, street cricket came alive between four and six every evening. In the Nineties and early-2000s a young Ashwin would be at the centre of all the sporting action.

After a hectic day at school, it was the sight of a bat and ball and his ‘area’ friends that would bring Ashwin utmost joy. Some days, he would be a hero, scoring lots of runs. On others, he would have to beg for gaaji, a word popular in Tamil Nadu to describe ‘batting’. And on still other days, he would have to face the stern uncle next door, chiding him for breaking the window glass with a monstrous six.

But every day, Ashwin would go to bed dreaming of the events that unfolded in the evening and look forward to more drama and action the next day.

Ravichandran Ashwin

Ravichandran Ashwin | Photo Credit: Shiva Raj S

Today, he is considered India’s top off-spinner, has a whopping 500 Test wickets to his name and a proven track record in all formats; yet, the allure of the West Mambalam streets still holds sway. “I would trade anything to go back. The joys of being on those lanes, fighting for those 2-3 runs and the ball going into the well... all these are great stories,” he says, at Taj Coromandel, on the sidelines of his recent book launch.

Ashwin has several such stories to share in the book, I Have the Streets: A Kutty Cricket Story (published by Penguin Random House India), in which he, along with cricket writer Siddharth Monga, paints a candid picture of his days before professional cricket and the little joys in the cricket-mad streets of Chennai. “Writing this gave me several goosebump moments. Today, people don’t play cricket on the streets as much as before. I just feel that after reading this, if someone wishes to be out there in the evenings playing cricket, I would have achieved what I set out to.”

 Ravichandran .Ashwin with wife Prithi at the launch of his book

Ravichandran .Ashwin with wife Prithi at the launch of his book | Photo Credit: VEDHAN M

Write approach

The seed of I Have the Streets was planted in Ashwin’s head as he sifted through many novels – he is a fan of Clive Cussler, Chetan Bhagat and has read all the Ponniyin Selvan books – and also binged on the autobiographies of Australian cricketers Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. “Reading Ponting’s book, it took me to his household in Launceston, Tasmania. When I read it, I was like, ‘Hey, this is what my life looked like.’ With my book, I wanted to be very organic and real.”

And so, I Have the Streets, apart from being an ode to the Madras of yore,also gives a peek into Ashwin’s middle-class Tamil household. His parents and grandfather, all instrumental in him taking to the game, form pivotal characters, as do his friends. It also takes us into his days at Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan school, where he met his wife Prithi for the first time. “The book also shows me having self-doubts and being vulnerable, but that’s what makes it real. A lot of people want to paint themselves perfectly, and I’m not perfect.”

A ticket to happiness
Ashwin is a huge fan of films and makes references to cinema in all his content, be it on YouTube or his book. “I’ve learnt a lot of life through movies. If I watch Ghilli, I would like to understand the friendship surrounding actor Vijay and his household rather than me going to Madurai and doing those fights. I resonate with that.”
He describes watching Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots as a turning point in his career. “I saw that movie at the right stage of my life, and it gave me the stamp to say that I am probably on the right path. I was so excited when it was remade in Tamil with Vijay, because I’m a huge of the actor as he has multiple abilities of dancing, action and a comic touch.”

Spirit of the game

Ashwin is widely considered a ‘thinking, competitive cricketer’ in the international sporting community now, but he stresses that it has always been that way.

Ravichandran Ashwin at his book launch

Ravichandran Ashwin at his book launch | Photo Credit: VEDHAN M

“The game was an avenue for me to compete. Even now, I’m every bit the same gully cricketer who played on the streets of Ramakrishnapuram. It’s the same fight I have in me.” Ashwin even brings a reference to ‘Mankading’, a style of dismissal that involves the non-striking batter backing up. “In the book, I recall running out my friend, Bhuvanesh at the non-striker’s end, in street cricket. Many years later, I ran out Jos Butler in an IPL game. It really doesn’t matter to me, because for me, Bhuvanesh is more precious to me than Butler will ever be. The fact that we could go hang out at a soup shop that very evening and have a great time is what makes gully cricket special.”

Ashwin is looking to be actively engaged with the game in the future too. Next month, he will play for the Dindigul Dragons in the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL). He is also busy shooting content for his popular YouTube channel, which is a delight for anyone interested in Chennai’s two primary loves, cricket and cinema. He will also soon come out with a part two of I Have The Streets as well, and also plans to host a cricket quiz sometime soon.

And, when time permits, Ashwin hopes to hit the streets of West Mambalam and Somasundaram Ground in T Nagar yet again, to play street cricket. “I want to do something called the ‘motta maadi cricket’ (terrace cricket), just like ‘motta maadi music’, a popular music concept. I want to bring back the joys of playing cricket in the terraces.” Chennai, are you ready?

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