June 15, 2007 — The spinners’ camp gets underway at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. Accomplished former Tamil Nadu left-arm spinner Sunil Subramanium is profiling the State’s next generation. He has his first glimpse of a tall, young cricketer, not very athletic, but with desire and hunger. Yet, the off-spinner has his limitations.
That was a long time ago. The story of R. Ashwin is not just about how he overcame his shortcomings but, in several ways, transcended them to become a world-beater.
Sunil recalled his first impression, in a chat with The Hindu: “Ashwin had a chest-on action. So, unlike someone with a side-on release, he was not able to get the same amount of pivot and hip drive that are so crucial to getting your body into your action for more turn and bounce.”
Sunil added, “Since he kept changing his delivery stride, his loading was all over the place. However, his willingness to experiment was evident too.”
But then, what shone through was Ashwin’s inquisitive mind, evident from how he answered a questionnaire administered by Sunil [see below]. “He would ask probing, searching questions and demand convincing answers. And Ashwin had a great idea of different fields in his head, not just for plan ‘A’, but for ‘B’ and ‘C’. I would give him a template and he would come up with his own solutions,” revealed Sunil.
Since he was not a classical spinner, how did Ashwin find a way to become India’s spin spearhead? “He has the most supple wrists I have seen in a spinner. And he has very large fingers. I found out how good his wrist was when he got his top-spinner, to me his most impressive variation, to bounce so much,” said Sunil.
When things went slightly wrong, Sunil came into the picture. After the Duleep Trophy final in Chennai in 2009, he got the off-spinner to shift his line from middle-and-leg to just outside off from where all his variations came into play. Following a rather disappointing home Test series against England in 2012, he helped Ashwin shorten his delivery stride and improve his load-up.
Ashwin himself has always had the ability to look inwards and find answers. After he was dropped from the eleven for the first Test against Australia in 2014, the off-spinner worked on his back-foot landing and body alignment to emerge a more potent bowler.
Through all this, Ashwin’s strength of mind has come to the fore. “He has the mind of a captain, has great cricketing intelligence and is fearless,” said Sunil.
These days, Sunil only steps in when Ashwin calls him. “He has grown as a bowler. I want to let him evolve further.”
Excerpts from the questionnaire Ashwin answered during the spinner’s camp in 2007:
PERCEIVED STRENGTHS: Skill: Not the greatest but good enough to do well.
Mental: Very much a cricketer with abilities to think about my strengths and stick to it.
AREAS OF IMMEDIATE CONCERN: Skill: Try and push through my action, i.e. more strength and finish-through at the crease.
GOALS: Short term: To strive for imparting more revolutions with the fingers, which is my strength. Medium Term: To try and pivot fully. Long term: To get the basics right and sustain.
YOUR EXPECTATIONS: From Self: To work hard and concentrate on my set goals.
From coaches in this camp: To encourage the variation that I am trying to build upon.
What is your attitude and orientation towards net sessions in general? In general I look upon a net session [as one] where I can strive for that little extra. If I am happy with something at the nets, I make sure that I use it in a match immediately. I am pretty versatile.
Is there any marked difference in attitude when a particular skill is learnt and implemented in nets and in match situations. If yes, why? Absolutely. I love to do things that are new to both me and people who bat. It has nothing to do with my attitude. But I have the arrogance [amended to self-confidence] to do what I want and more often than not I am successful doing that.