R Ashwin has always been known for his out of the box thinking Be it off-spin, carrom ball, leg-spin, changing release points & actions or his latest innovation during TNPL 2019 delivering the ball without using his non-bowling arm – Ashwin has surprised the cricketing fraternity time and time again So, why does he do what he does? Let’s hear it from the man himself! My intention as a bowler or a spinner is to try and make it as difficult as possible for a batsman to face the bowler and what all disturbs the batsman, what’s very disconcerting…so…anything and everything I try, including the variations, take the ball away, the carrom ball, the arm ball, whatever be it… is my innate understanding of the game and what makes it difficult for the batsman to face in a T20 game or in a one-day game for that matter…in any format of the game…even if it’s a Test match…longer format or shorter format… it’s important to put the batsman under pressure so whatever I do is directly proportional to that. Ashwin’s unique approach towards bowling was there for all to see even during his teenage days. See, one of the things that I distinctly remember was a state U16 match against Hyderabad… they were 110 for 7, after a while there was a partnership, that eighth wicket they batted for a couple of sessions. So we were struggling to get a wicket…and when Ashwin bowled then, he bowled over the wicket but he was cutting across diagonally through the umpire but at that point of time all of us were just laughing or even ridiculing the idea but that’s the kind of person he is…he tries, he just wants to try anything to get that extra 1 percent. It’s not that Ashwin wakes up one fine day and comes up with these variations. Ashwin has spent months perfecting his variations For me, to actually push the carrom ball out of the front of my hand, it took nearly 24-36 months. My work with leg-spin started in 2017 before the Champions Trophy that we went to England. And I bowled (leg spin) in the IPL in 2018 so…probably…I mean…I even bowled in the Champions Trophy a bit of leg-break. So it didn’t take me a long time. I think if I do something, if I put my mind to it right now, because of the number of repetitions I have done as a bowler over the years, it doesn’t take me a long time. So he wanted to be the complete package. He bowled the leg spin, bowled the top spin, bowled the googly, bowled the flipper… he wanted to do everything and he was even wanting to mask the leg spin in his action as well. So it was not specifically one component. Obviously he had bowled deliveries, he had been practising for years together…so it was just finer adjustments. In fact, Ashwin did some research to understand the legality of his new ‘one-hand’ delivery action in TNPL before executing it in a match From Ashwin’s side, he showed us a few variations and he was talking about the legality of those actions and we tried to speak to the umpires, the experienced umpires they said that you know he can do that as long as the arm is not bending. He did well and as long as he is putting the ball at the right areas and for his experience I think it is the right thing to do it. A few years back, Ashwin bowled with the full sleeves…does a full sleeve make a difference? Look…for me, bowling with a straight arm is very natural…I mean…it’s very difficult for me to bend the arm but it was (about) clearly trying to see if I can gain that 15 degree advantage which people are talking about or maybe at that point of time I felt a lot of cricketers were probably exceeding that 15 degrees mark as well…so… I was trying to see…why should I lose down in the competition with people who are actually using that and to me who is bowling with a straighter arm…that was the intention to try it…and definitely if you are going to flex your arms and if you are going to rotate your elbows and try and get more leverage into the ball… like anybody who knows a little bit of science will understand that leverage on the ball will give you an advantage in terms of dropping the ball in the length and also pushing the batsman onto the back foot… it is a massive advantage but obviously I don’t think I could have done it for a longer period of time because it was taking a toll on my elbow because my elbow is not used to doing certain actions. There are people who attempt to decode Ashwin’s sharp cricketing brain… When you go there, you have to be very careful when you use the word decode when you use it for someone as good as Ashwin, who has proved himself in all formats of the game…not only in Tests…he has been winning matches for IPL, winning T20 matches for India, ODIs…Tests…so when you try and do an analysis for Ashwin, you should be crystal clear in what you do… because there are a lot of times when you see that… ‘oh this is what, exactly he is going to do’…and all of a sudden he is going to double bluff you by going on the same thing. The most important thing is… he is not only going on the trends and what he normally does when a batsman for example gets his eye in, he is confidently playing in a defensive way or in an offensive way or what he does sometimes what he does is…I’m going to prepare my batsmen based on this is what you have exactly got to do against him… he is going to come up with something totally different…that’s the quality of Ashwin…the reason being he is very very intelligent and clever…when I’m trying to do this, he is someone who is going to do his preparations on what exactly we are going to come up to counter him, so there is a great chance of him coming up with a double bluff which I also should be aware of. The only problem is now we move on in another 20 days…when I come back to the same place, where I’m going to team up with South Africa and then when you see the same bowler who was the captain 20 days back and you do the same kind of strategies for him. It’s going to be a challenging one and it’s going to be an interesting one. Ashwin once said Dhoni played a major part in helping him evolve into an innovative cricketer I know how…what MS thinks about it or what MS thinks about me…He has always maintained that my biggest strength has been the fact that I try and I’m very innovative and I try and monkey around with my bowling and he likes it and even on the contrast to experts say… .I did go back…Even now when I play certain formats of the game, when I play the longer format, I’m very monotonous in terms of what I do and when I come back to the shorter formats…MS has always made it a point to tell me that I should be who I’m…not necessarily change because experts have a view on it. In that way, I think MS has kind of shaped the lateral thinking that I had with a little bit of affirmation and said you are doing the right thing. When Ashwin – the international cricketer – isn’t playing, Ashwin – the mentor – can be spotted at the Gen-Next Cricket Institute in Chennai shaping young minds When I do go, try and pass on the knowledge to kids, generally I’m pretty suggestive… I try and take them away from what they are doing, try and create match-time scenarios, try and show them what’s…even when they are playing in the nets I try and take them to a game scenario and put them into uncomfortable zones and people do find reluctance sometimes in doing it and sometimes I do get questions but I do find answers for them. But if I don’t have answers, I try and go back, think about it and come back to them with the answers which is essentially what a good coach must do…you must be able to provide a cricketer with at least 10 solutions for the same question because no two fingers are the same so you must…every cricketer is different so you must be able to provide with better options every single day. For example, if cover driving doesn’t working for a batsman with a certain grip, it could work with a closed grip, it could work with open grip or it could work with a drill… a different sort of a drill… I must be able to produce different drills, I must be able to provide different options to a cricketer. So for me, it’s all about creating match time scenarios and try and create different ways with which you can do the same skill with excellence. It’s not just kids…Ashwin passes on his knowledge to fellow cricketers, and doesn’t mind elaborating on his tricks to a broader audience on television. I don’t think I’m coming out in the open. I just try and explain what goes behind the ball…I mean… Look, personally as a cricketer I know even if I teach you something, like even if I show you how it’s done… it’s not that easy to actually go and execute it…so…and I’m someone who is very very innovative and never reluctant to try something. Even if I teach someone, the odds of somebody actually trying it out is very minimal and I personally as a cricketer and a bowler I have felt the more I teach, the more better, I become as a cricketer and that’s not an idea that comes from my cricket and it comes from my engineering background I have had. I used to teach a lot of people and that’s how I actually finished my exams and passed it very well. For me, if I teach, actually, I gain out of it …sometimes many of my ideas have come when I have taught cricketers…so I don’t think it’s…I have had people come and tell me that you shouldn’t do this… it’s not right or whatever it is…maybe in the middle of the series I shouldn’t do it or whatever it is but I generally I don’t think it retracts me as a cricketer. Over the years, Ashwin has also faced criticism for his variations, but… I have always taken critics on the chin. I have never felt like they are hitting me under the belt or anything like that. I have never had the intention of…look sometimes it’s very hurtful when people talk in a fashion which looks something apart from cricket…you know…sometimes you feel it is not with the right intent and those are times when you do get hurt with it but generally when I get some criticism or anything I look at it very rationally… try and see if I can pick up something and try and see if I can improve. It’s never really like brought me down or pulled me down in terms of what kind of a person or what sort of a cricketer I have been. Ashwin has nearly 550 international wickets and possesses a bag of tricks but at the end of the day… Personally, I think my best ball is the off-break. There is no doubting that… but when you play the shorter format of the game, you need to throw the batsman off the guard, that’s exactly why you need to possess… I mean…I would much rather have 10 options in my hand and execute the wrong option than have just one option and feel I’m in the middle of nowhere in a forest and don’t have an option to exercise so… that’s precisely the idea behind having, trying so many things in the shorter format but when it comes to red-ball cricket, I still think…or even white-ball cricket in the 50-overs format, I still think bowling your stock ball off-break is very very important and that’s my best ball, because I get drift on it, drop on it and I get nice bounce on it so… I still think that’s my biggest spinning ball. My Ashwin foundation is very close to my heart. I think I have already spoken enough about it I would like to venture all across Tamil Nadu first and try and see how many young kids, under privileged kids… and how many kids that don’t have an opportunity to try and scale heights in this sport. I can give them an opportunity to study, to play the game as long and as far as they can and probably later Ashwin foundation will also venture into other sports as the band width increases.