Playing the Indian Premier League throws up new challenges, and while Ravichandran Ashwin will be treading on uncharted territory as captain of Kings XI Punjab for IPL 2018, the veteran off-spinner is not considering the franchise-based tournament a platform for a comeback into the Indian team. Ashwin was a lynchpin of the Indian spin-bowling attack in all formats before he, along with Ravindra Jadeja, were upstaged from the limited-overs formats by the wrist-spinning duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav.
Ashwin, who was appointed KXIP captain on Monday ahead of names like Yuvraj Singh and Aaron Finch, last took the field in a coloured India jersey in July, 2017.
"I am not looking at this IPL for an India comeback. I go into the IPL with a mindset that I have every year. This season I have a big responsibility (captaining KXIP) and I am ready for the challenge. I am not looking for anything else. It (India comeback) will happen if it has to," Ashwin told PTI.
Ashwin and Jadeja's selection for next year's World Cup seems unlikely at the moment with Chahal and Yadav doing a fine job for India.
However, Ashwin's performance in the IPL will hold the key for him not just as captain but also as a senior bowler who is ready to unleash leg-spin in the tournament to be played in April-May.
It is still early days for deciding on team combinations but one of Ashwin's challenges would be to handle senior players in the squad. Yuvraj, Finch, David Miller and Chris Gayle are among the high-profile players in the side this season.
"Having played international cricket for close to 10 years, I don't think I will have an issue (handling the senior players). I am also one of them. It is a strong squad and I feel all the big names you have mentioned will play an integral role, said the 31-year-old.
The franchise had plenty of captaincy options but went for Ashwin, who took no time to accept the challenge. Team mentor Virender Sehwag too has said that he wanted a bowler to be the leader.
"I see it as a natural progression having played cricket for so long at the top level. I have always felt I had it in me to be captain. It is really exciting," Ashwin said.
He might have the experience of playing 57 Tests, 111 ODIs and 46 T20 Internationals but is forever a student of the game. And that is why he is hoping to learn from 16-year-old spin sensation from Afghanistan, Mujeeb Zadran.
"I have heard great things about him and I am looking forward to bowling alongside him and hopefully and learn a trick or two from him," Ashwin said.
Ashwin added that it will be a different experience playing for a team which is not Chennai Super Kings, who will return this season after serving a two-year ban. He played seven seasons for CSK from 2009 to 2015.
"It was special to play for CSK all those years but now it is about doing the job for the team which went after me in the auction. All I can say is that it will be special to go back and play at Chepauk," he said, hoping that the Chennai crowd will continue to back him even though he will be in the opposition camp.
(With PTI inputs)