On June 30, when ODI cricket’s No. 1 and No. 2 sides meet in one of the World Cup’s most anticipated clashes, India will have a decision to make about the composition of their spin attack. Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja will almost certainly feature in that discussion, but one man who almost certainly will not is R Ashwin.
On that day, unless India’s selectors spring a major surprise with their World Cup squad, it will have been exactly two years since Ashwin last played an ODI.
Since that game against West Indies in Antigua, Ashwin has found himself cast as a Test specialist, another fingerspinning casualty in the worldwide push for wristspin as a wicket-taking force in white-ball cricket. Kuldeep and Chahal have been India’s first-choice spinners in ODIs since then, and if Jadeja has re-entered the picture over recent months it’s thanks in large part to his utility as a lower-order hitter and gun fielder.
Ashwin hasn’t reconciled himself to being a Test-only player, however, and says his exclusion from limited-overs cricket is down to a “perception” that wristspin is a must in the shorter formats.
“I am not looking at it like that because I am no slouch,” Ashwin said in an event in Mumbai on Saturday. “In the white-ball format, my records are not bad like what it is perceived to be. It is out of perception that wristspinners are required in the modern day one-day cricket format, that [is why] I am sitting out. The last one-day match that I played, I got 3 for 28.
“I would always look back at my career and say it is not due to my effort that I am sitting out of the team, it is due to the supply and demand that the team requires.
“I went and played in the Syed Mushtaq Ali [domestic T20 tournament] and I had a decent outing and that is how I look at it. I am playing cricket and it is not like I need to specialise in one particular format. It is the challenges of the modern-day game, I will be looking forward to do whatever I can do best.”
Perception or not, the rise of wristspin in ODIs has coincided with Ashwin trying to reinvent himself as a limited-overs bowler; during last year’s IPL, he alternated between legspin and his usual offspin, and he’s set to do so again this season for Kings XI Punjab.
“I have always maintained that you can spin the ball into the batsman or out of the batsman, you can’t do anything more than that,” Ashwin said, when asked if he was working on any new variations. “I am just adding more ammunition to my own skill and try and add more strength to my game and that’s all it has always been.
“I have never played for the galleries, never really played for the records, never really played for places. I just enjoy the sport, the sport has given me everything. When I picked up the bat and ball as a eight-year-old it gave me everything, I love it. Even today when I play a club game, when I play on the streets I enjoy it. For me it is all about playing the game that I love and excelling in the best possible way I can.”
Ashwin also weighed in on the discussion over whether India’s World Cup contenders should have their workloads monitored during the IPL. Virat Kohli recently said it was up to individual players to monitor their own fitness requirements and arrive at the World Cup sharp and match-fit. Ashwin felt a clearer picture would develop as the IPL progresses, and that the bowlers might require rest at some point.
“I don’t think as a cricketer you can look far ahead about what needs to be done and how you can manage it,” he said. “As a cricketer or as a sportsperson you just concentrate on what happens today. The franchise has invested money on you. Obviously it is a massive tournament, everybody plays for pride, everybody wants to perform and excel. It definitely stays at the back of the head because it is being spoken about a lot more right now.
“I am sure the players are responsible enough and more fitness-aware and be able to handle it than they ever were. I don’t think going into the tournament people will be thinking about it but as the tournament pans out and the way it goes for each and every franchise and for each and every player, they will take decisions wisely. Probably because of the number of injuries and the amount of premium players that are right now available for the country, and how important every spot is.
“It is a dream for every cricketer to represent his country at the World Cup, it is a big stage. I think that is the point of view from where they are coming. Obviously, bowlers have more chances of succumbing to injuries because of the workload they go through, it is physically more hard on the body than the batters. Probably from that point of view, if you look at a [Jasprit] Bumrah or a Bhuvneshwar [Kumar], Bumrah has been fine but Bhuvneshwar has had a few concerns over the last year or so. I think from that point of view the bowlers need to be taken good care of.”