Ravichandran Ashwin, who has replaced Harbhajan Singh as India's premier spinner, was bowling at the nets when Wisden India caught up with him at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore. One of the few Indian spinners that flights the ball, Ashwin caught the attention of the national selectors primarily after strong performances for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.
Part of the squad to tour Sri Lanka for five One-Day Internationals and one Twenty20 International starting on July 21, Ashwin felt that the long break had been beneficial for the team. "We had a good one-month break after the IPL," Ashwin said. "And coming back from a holiday now has certainly freshened up the mind before a long season ahead."
Ashwin, whose six-wicket haul led his team, Brindavan Cricket Club, to victory in a TNCA league match on July 6, was positive that preparations ahead of the Sri Lanka tour were on track. "I did play a couple of local matches back home," he said. "That will help me slowly ease into it with practice for another week."
The World Twenty20 is scheduled in Sri Lanka in September, and Ashwin said playing there would be an advantage ahead of the tournament. "The team will be familiar with the conditions. So our chances in the tournament should be quite good."
India performed poorly as a unit in England last summer, and that disappointing showing was reprised in Australia, where they again lost 4-0. Ashwin got his chance prior to the Australian tour, and he said: "We went in with a lot of expectations but the Australian team played really well in their home conditions. We were outplayed in every department of the game. We could have batted much better."
With a bowling style that is both traditional and innovative, Ashwin has always played a crucial role for Chennai Super Kings. Asked if he has strategies for particular players, he said, "We as a team have a strategy for a game in terms of who we play and who are the key players in the opposition. Shutting them down and not giving runs is a part of the overall strategy; we also look to target the areas where a batsman is not strong enough. If I have the opportunity, I make sure I attack and take wickets. But I don't have a game plan for any particular player as such."
Ashwin, who has played 35 ODI and six Tests, was satisfied with his experiences so far. "International cricket has been really good to me," he said. "The Australian tour was the biggest test and I thought I passed it really well. With a long season coming up, I want to take that form forward."
Having started his domestic career as an opener at the Under-19 level, Ashwin is only the third Indian to score a hundred and bag a five-wicket haul in the same Test, against the West Indies in November last year. The hundred saved India from the embarrassment of a follow-on. Ashwin, however, refused to acknowledge it as the highlight of his career so far. "I will not limit myself there. I have a long way to go and I will keep exceeding my own expectations."
Ten years after the NatWest final of 2002, Ashwin has memories of watching the epic chase as a teenager. "Like everyone, I too had lost hope until Yuvraj and Kaif set that partnership up," he said. "Though I had taken up cricket seriously by then, the NatWest victory showed that the younger generation of cricketers was on par with international standards. It gave them the confidence to excel."