Ravichandran Ashwin doesn’t have an easy time of it. To try to wrap your head around the fact that one minute you are the best bowler in Test cricket and the next you are hit with the crushing truth that being the best in the world doesn’t guarantee you a spot in India’s starting XI. Since the middle of 2017, Ashwin has mostly only played in one format for India (except for a brief comeback in 2021-22). Even in that format, he hasn’t played much because Ravindra Jadeja, who is just as good and has better batting credentials, gets the lone spinner’s spot on tracks that are made to keep India from playing both spinners at the same time.
So it was in last month’s World Test Championship final at The Oval, where Ashwin stood on the sidelines and watched as India fought to keep control and score on the first day. After five days, India gave up the lead and the coveted mace. The 36-year-old went back to India to play T20 cricket at the TNPL before flying back to the Caribbean. On the first day of India’s next WTC in Dominica, he got a five-fer, his 33rd in Test cricket, to show that he hadn’t lost his form with the red ball.
“I already talked about it. Ashwin said, “It’s tough as a cricketer to have a WTC final and have to sit out.” “That’s all good. But what makes me different from someone else if I end up pouting in the changing room too? I was mentally ready to play when we went to the WTC final. I was ready both physically and emotionally, and I had planned everything for the game. But I was also ready to stay away from the game.
“What should I do if I’m not playing? How can I be sure that the changing room is really working? The most important thing is to win the WTC final. It could be a very high point in my career, and I would have done a good job of making it happen. It’s just too bad that it didn’t work out. We just left too much in the shed after the first day. All I want to give my friends and Indian cricket as a whole is some understanding and my best efforts on the field.
After India lost the toss in Dominica, Ashwin was put into the game as early as the ninth over. Tagenarine Chanderpaul got a nervous inside edge off of his first ball. By the end of his third over, he had joined Ian Botham, Wasim Akram, Mitchell Starc, and Simon Harmer as one of the few bowlers to get rid of both members of a father-son pair in a Test match. The ace offspinner got captain Kraigg Brathwaite out before lunch and then got top scorer Alick Athanaze, Alzarri Joseph, and Jomel Warrican out to hit the milestone.
“The wicket moved a little, especially at the terrace end. The pitch also had a rise, which helped us bounce. But we made good use of the first meeting. The ground was wet, and the ball was moving well off of it. As you saw, they showed an image that showed it was turning more [in the second session], but the turn was very slow. But there was bounce, the pace off was good, and there was bite in the first session. We made good use of it. The way [Jermaine] Blackwood got out of the game right before lunch gave us all the energy. Ashwin said, “I also thought Jaiswal and Rohit batted very well, giving us a very strong first day.”
Ashwin moved ahead of Anderson on the list of players with the most five-wicket hauls in Test cricket because of this. Rangana Herath, who is 34, Anil Kumble, who is 35, Richard Hadlee, who is 36, and Shane Warne, who is 37, are all right above him. Muttiah Muralitharan, who is 67, is still way out in front. Along the way, Ashwin became only the third Indian bowler after Kumble and Harbhajan Singh to get 700 international wickets. All of it was important enough to make you think.
“There isn’t a cricketer or person in this world who has only had highs and never had lows,” Ashwin said. “When you’re down, you have two options: you can either pout or talk about it, then complain about it and go down with it. You can also learn from it. So I’m someone who always learns from their mistakes.
“In fact, the best thing that will happen to me today after this good day is that I’ll have a good meal, talk to my family, and then go to bed and forget about it. When you’ve had a good day, you know it, but there are still things you can work on to make tomorrow even better. This steady drive to be the best has always served me well, but it has also worn me out very much. It hasn’t been a very easy trip. For me, the trip has been exhausting, but I’m glad for all the low points because without them, there wouldn’t be any high points.
“When I think back on my work, I can’t believe how quickly it went by. It’s been going on for 14 years, and if you count IPL, it’s been going on for 15 or 16 years. It’s just happened that way. All I would say is that the first time I met Rahul Dravid as a teacher, he told me, “It’s not about how many wickets you take or how many runs you score. You won’t remember any of them. Only the good memories you make with your team will stay with you.
“I fully agree with that. I don’t know if he’s made me do that or not. From my point of view, this trip has gone by so quickly that I can’t even remember what happened and how it went. I have a lot of thankfulness, and I’m very thankful for the journey and what the game has given me. I don’t know how many more times like this will happen to me, but I’ll try to enjoy everything that comes my way. When cricket started up again after Covid, I made a promise to myself that I would enjoy it no matter what, whether I was playing, getting dropped, or leaving the game. I will have fun no matter what.”