‘Like they say, the world spins and everything will spin around. It’s only a matter of time as more often than not Indian cricket is built mostly on perceptions.’ - R Ashwin simply dished out this line when asked about his place in the Indian LOI side a few years ago. He was forthright, which is intrinsic to his personality, but a very few lines had explained Indian cricket in its truest form than this.
India had discovered a new-found love for wrist-spin bowling and with Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal picking wickets in an uncanny fashion, Ashwin and his long-time partner-in-crime Ravindra Jadeja became a luxury that the side couldn’t afford anymore. Everyone and their pet dog were raving about the leg-spinning duo, forgetting the success India had with the two orthodox spinners in the squad - starting from the time Harbhajan Singh was still India’s mainstay.
It was possibly a representation of the changing guard in Indian cricket, with Virat Kohli now having a certain Ravi Shastri for the company in the backroom who was hell-bent for the change after Chahal picked up a six-fer against England in Bangalore in February 2017. In all the euphoria, Ashwin turned to become a Test specialist and was not deemed good enough for white-ball cricket, which was ironic because his claim to fame was the shortest format back in the 2010 Indian Premier League and Champions League T20. Ashwin proved to be a force in the long race and never a sold commodity. Thus, the hope lingered.
In the 2018 Asia Cup, Jadeja was roped in as a replacement for Hardik Pandya mid-way through the tournament and not Ashwin, who was definitely a better wicket-taking and run-containing option than the left-arm spinner at that point in time. But the Indian team management was too rigid about their plans. These things need to be repeated and told multiple times because often the generation of cricket fans, with a short attention span, forget a simple truism that a hero doesn’t die as a villain if there is a new hero in the neighborhood. It is a peripheral tendency where cricket has mostly been squandered within a box of improbabilities and relative ‘truth’.
When Ashwin was booted out of the Indian white-ball side in 2017, he had 52 wickets to his name at an economy of 6.97 in 46 T20I matches. His numbers had surely taken a dip in the previous two seasons of IPL - case in point, he had 65 wickets between 2011 to 2014 but 20 wickets in the next two seasons before injury forced him out of the 2017 campaign. From the feel of it, there were a host of things that could have gone haywire but Ashwin kept on reinventing himself. He added leg-spin to his arsenal, worked on his stock ball to be more formal than deceptive and became a player of substance for both Kings XI Punjab (now Punjab Kings) and Delhi Capitals.
Since 2017, the year where Washington Sundar - India's most trusted powerplay specialist in the last three years, made his IPL debut, Ashwin has delivered 41.4 overs in the powerplay, picking up ten wickets at an average of 32.4 and an economy rate of 7.8. In the same time period, Sundar has nine wickets, at a better economy rate of 7.3 and an average of 39.6. After joining Delhi Capitals in the 2020 edition, Ashwin bowled 17 overs in the first six overs, picking up seven crucial wickets for the Capitals, at an average of 17, with a strike rate of 14.6 and an economy of 7.
With Sundar nursing an injury and is being out of the World Cup, Ashwin has come up with loads of experience and an even better understanding of the craft. And remember, the 2020 season was in the Middle East, the venue where the global event would be held in the coming month. To add to that, the senior off-spinner picked up seven wickets against left-handed batsmen in the tournament, to go with his six against the right-handers. Where Ashwin stands out is his ability to outfox the big-hitters, with the Tamil Nadu man having picked up big-hitters in the past. While India would definitely meet with the destiny of facing the tougher teams, the off-spinner's street-smartness and his box of tricks would certainly help to bail India out.
Ashwin not only brings a sense of identity with his never-say-die attitude but also an innate value in the direst of situations. It is a simple matter of competitiveness that allows him to run the batter out at the non-striker’s end without remorse. His spirit will be a welcome addition.