Wednesday, February 21, 2018
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By his own admission, R Ashwin has become a better cricketer since the Galle Test in 2015

It was the point where R Ashwin's career took a turn for the better. He had racked up the wickets and scored important runs for the team, but he was far from the asset that he is today for the Indian team.

Before the famous Galle Test in 2015, Ashwin's career was at the crossroads. He was still India's lead spinner, lead bowler even, if the conditions were to his favour, but that effect was slowly fading away. India had a new Test captain in Virat Kohli, and in his first Test, in Adelaide, Ashwin had been dropped from the XI. He came back soon enough, but it was in Galle that the penny dropped on the Indian team. Ashwin showed that he was capable of taking his game to the next level. And what a next level that turned out to be.

In 24 matches, including the Galle Test, Ashwin has racked up wickets by the truckloads. 151 wickets in 24 Tests, compared to 98 in the previous 25. The contrasts were telling, even if Ashwin played a majority of the Tests during the second half of his career so far at home, or in helpful conditions. Nearly two years to that date, the offspinner has, by his own admission, become a better cricketer and has sights set on only getting better as time and the Indian team travel.

"For starters, I'm a lot more calmer from what I was then," said Ashwin, speaking to the media after India's practice session in Galle on Monday (July 24). "I think I was a little bit more like a cat on a hot tin roof so to say. I was looking forward to performing desperately because sometimes, like I have said, my performances need to be that much more better for me to get anywhere in my career, so I've always lived that way and it's kind of changed me over a period of time.

"I do take things in the stride - fairly bad days, ordinary days and mediocre days are a part of a cricketer's career. As I told you, it's important to learn from that and try and get better. I think I've become a far better cricketer than what I was when I came here in 2015. I just hope that if at all I come back again, I would be a far better cricketer than what I am today," he added.

Ashwin sets himself the highest of standards, whether with the ball or bat. And the pressures of such high standards can be intimidating, even to a player of supreme self-belief. So it was imperative that he learnt to take things in his stride when games or moments don't go his way. It is something that has helped him keep his stunning run of form.

"I would say yes, because the amount of pressure that you're put in, not only from within the team but also from outside, the external factors," Ashwin said, when asked if sustaining form and the spot in the Indian team was harder than breaking into the side. "You have to understand that this is an excellent Indian team. In the past, the people with... I mean if you look at the teams around the world, they do get an extended run. Youngsters do get to okay a few more games than they get to play in India. That's because of the kind of team we've put on the park.

"We do have some excellent cricketers sitting outside as well. It is a lot of pressure but sustaining or holding on to a position is not something that will go well with an excellent side, a side that has striving for excellence needs to have excellent cricketers looking to get well past their previous best. That's how I'd like to put it, and this Indian team is quite an excellent side, we all know that," he said.

"Sometimes I feel that even good cricketers lose out in this particular team because of the quality we have in the dressing room" - R Ashwin © Cricbuzz
Ashwin is on the cusp of his 50th Test for India, something only 29 other Indians have managed to do. He already has 275 wickets to his name, with only four other stalwarts getting more than him. And it is special that it comes at a place where the more significant chapter in his cricket began.

"To come back to a place where I did really well last time in 2015 is like a dream come true because it was some sort of a momentous occasion for me then because I was on the way back into the Test side and I got a six-for on the first day and went on to get a 10-for on the third day. It brings back a lot of good memories, coming back to the same venue. And 50th Test is definitely something that has come about. I am not able to go back and retrace how I did it but I am very grateful to have gotten here. I think every Test match a blessing from here on.

"Looking behind, I might have set some targets but I won't be setting any targets looking ahead. That's what the past has taught me. You can't get ahead of yourself, you can't set milestones, you can't set records for yourself in the future. The most important thing is to try and get better every single day because international cricket is very cruel and it can really sort you out if you are sitting back on your past laurels. It's very important to put it behind. Yes, you can have a cup of coffee and think about it and reminisce it really well but it is very important to take one Test match and one day at a time," he added.

Much like Ashwin, the Indian team, too, has transformed into the best in the world. The arrived in Sri Lanka in 2015 looking forward to a glorious new chapter, and under Virat Kohli, have managed to find it. Now they will embark on a tougher leg of the chapter, and the expectations heaped on them would only make things tough.

"In 2015, I think we were sandwiched int he middle of a leadership takeover. Virat had just taken over in Australia and we came here having played one Test in Bangladesh. And we had set ourselves a lot of goals for each other and I would say we have achieved them and come out in flying colours over the last couple of years as a group.

"We have produced a lot of good cricketers, some young cricketers have come in and put their hands up and some others have excelled really. That includes me, Jadeja, Puji who has made a sort of a comeback because I don't think Puji was part of that Galle Test in 2015. From thereon, a lot of people have put their hands up and we have kind of become a pretty good unit. Sometimes I feel that even good cricketers lose out in this particular team because of the quality we have in the dressing room."

Ashwin might not be the person who would 'lose out' for now. He has set himself as India's big match-winner, and will be at the forefront of India's Test hopes in the future.

© Cricbuzz


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