On Wednesday evening in Abu Dhabi, a circle was completed.
In his T20I comeback, Ashwin was resplendent in his mastery.
The team’s sole wrist-spinner, Rahul Chahar, wasn’t picked as Varun Chakravarthy’s replacement.
After the 2017 Champions Trophy, India decided to mother-hen wrist spin, at the expense of Ashwin’s off-spin.
Without Washington Sundar’s injury, he probably wouldn’t have been at this T20 World Cup. Without India badly losing their first two games, he probably would have been warming the bench still.
Ashwin has a different view about the circle’s completion.
“I don’t know. Circles are never completed. They keep going in loops. I can’t really say the circle has come around and all that,” he was pretty tongue in cheek to start with at the pre-match press conference, with India playing Scotland on Friday.
Four years of hurt eventually penetrated a jovial veneer.
“The perception of finger-spin needs to change, I think. Ever since 2017, I was going through a very good phase of my Test career, and I felt like I was bowling amazing stock balls at that point in time. I didn’t require anything else to be doing at that stage.”
The standout part of Ashwin’s conversation has always been his intellect, cricketing and philosophical. He spoke about the circles stopping at the 2017 Champions Trophy final, where he was dismantled by Pakistan’s Fakhar Zaman. At long last, a delayed reboot happened.
“But like I said, the circles stop. There are stations at every single place, and that Champions Trophy final was one of those stations where I had to halt and think about my career. Ever since, I have evolved as a T20 bowler.”
Watching Ashwin at the nets gives one an idea about the amount of effort he puts in to improve, even after 413 Test wickets and 204 limited-overs internationals scalps.
The latest variety being a middle-finger flick, disguised in a carrom ball release.
“I have bowled a lot more deliveries that there are people that are terming them as carrom balls and off-spin and arm balls. But those are very subtle. I’m trying to create different angles to create different seam positions.”
Afghanistan’s Gulbadin Naib was schooled by the subtleness, a carrom ball that never was.
“The ball that I dismissed Gulbadin Naib yesterday was anything but a carrom ball. So I have worked on it. I have got so many more options than what I used to have at that particular point of time,” Ashwin explained.
For him, it has always been about playing on the mind of the batsmen, softening them up mentally before delivering the final blow. This was what Bishan Bedi used to do for fun. Ashwin does it with an assortment of variety.
“When I bowl to a right hander, I think like a left-arm spinner or a leg-spinner. When I bowl to a left-hander, I think like an off -spinner. So thinking creates the intent and the intent eventually translates into practice and then goes into a game.”
— BCCI (@BCCI) November 4, 2021
The hurt momentarily returns again. “There’s a lot of work gone in there. It’s just the perception of what I do, needs to change.”
This tournament probably was his last chance saloon in terms of staying relevant in white-ball cricket. Ashwin had little margin for error when he bowled against Afghanistan. His approach could have been dilemma-ridden. He embraced clarity of thought instead.
“More often than not, wicket-taking is something that’s seen as something that just happens, but it’s not like that. A lot of experts and wise men who have played the game say that cricket is a game of partnerships. For every wicket that a bowler is picking, there’s an over that’s been bowled before or after that’s created that wicket. So we need to understand that. And every wicket that falls through a middle-over is the result of a few dot balls played by a batter or bowled by another bowler.”
For over four months, the 35-year-old offie didn’t play any international cricket, coming on the heels of an Indian winter when he tormented England batsmen. He was the team’s most potent wicket-taking option on a Southampton green-top in the World Test Championship final as well. An elongated lull followed.
“For me, understanding the battles in my life and career is something I have done very well over the last couple of years. I once had some deep ridges to go through, some long periods of lull I have had to go through. I don’t want to read too much into it as to why those lulls have happened, but definitely that’s a pattern I have embraced in my life.”