The India spinner talks us through how he deconstructs batters' techniques ahead of and during a series, his struggles with injury, and more
One of the most remarkable things about R Ashwin is the amount of preparation he puts into his cricket. He says he needs it. His is not the most athletic of bodies, and he has had more than a fair share of injuries since childhood. So to compete in elite sport, he needs all the extra advantage he can carry onto the field.
This interview was a year in the arranging. When Ashwin finally got a few days between the New Zealand series and the South Africa tour, we managed to steal some of his personal time to get talking about how he prepares for competition. What emerged is not just the extreme detail that goes into his tactical preparation, but how much he has to work on his body to be able to play at the top level.
I want to focus on how you prepare for a big series, because I believe you are one of the best prepared cricketers in the world. I remember you said once that it is easier for someone like Ravindra Jadeja, who is such a natural athlete, to turn up and bowl 30 overs in a day, whereas someone like you has to fight his own body. When does your preparation for a series start?
There are two aspects of preparation. One is physical and the other is mental and tactical. I don't think people lay enough emphasis on the tactical stuff. Not saying tactical preparation is mandatory, because I have played in cricket environments where people mostly want to rely on their abilities, their strengths, rather than focusing on tactics.
When it comes to physical preparation, between 2017 and 2019 I first got struck by this injury called patellar tendonitis. It is not like you can't play with it, but the beauty of the injury is that your knees just won't warm up. In the morning, even walking can be excruciatingly painful. They open up as the day pans out, but you can't jog. It takes at least two or three laps before it feels okay. The pain never really goes off.
It happened on my right leg first, which is my take-off leg when bowling. So jumping becomes extremely difficult. You need to have a bit of a jump, you have to go on one leg at least for a fraction of a second before you deliver the ball. So it became very challenging. Even my practice had started to become a bit of a challenge. And eventually the left leg got affected too, because of the extra load it had to carry.
"Empathy is being able to put yourself in others' shoes and feel, 'Hey what if it happens to me?' I feel as a cricketing community, we lack that"
Then I had athletic pubalgia, which I think came on as an extension of the first injury. Every other part of the body had to make up for what the knee wasn't able to produce.
Then I started to bowl with different actions. Because of athletic pubalgia, getting into a side-on position every time would be tough. Then after about ten overs into a spell, all of a sudden there would be no energy going through the body. Then I tore my abdomen, then I tore my adductors. It was like dominoes.
These injuries left a lot of scars on me. In the cricketing community [in India], the understanding towards injuries is pathetic. Clearly there is a reason why I was getting injured, but we are not interested in finding that out. We just keep repeating that the problem is a problem, but that does not help me find a solution. Nor will shaming someone for getting injured.
A lot of team-mates got injured, but when I got injured, it seemed more than what it was. There was insensitivity towards injury. It scarred me deeply. I went to county cricket thinking, "I should just get through the day." That I should bowl 25 overs without injuring myself. Because if I injure myself in county cricket, I would end up raising eyebrows.
One thing that will forever hurt me is that statements were made about how I didn't want to play or how I ran away from a contest. You can brand me anything, you can kick me out, all that is fine, but to doubt my intent or my fight is something that deeply hurt me.
Before getting into any series, I go into a four-week training. In the morning I focus entirely on my mobility and my injury-struck areas. Sling sort of work, fascia sort of work. I get into holding positions. Then two hours later, after breakfast, I go into strength training where I build my big-bang muscles. In the evening, alternate days I run, alternate days, I do skill.
Ashwin has been dogged with injuries to the point where he thought of quitting the game. "There was insensitivity towards [my] injury," he says. "It scarred me deeply"
Michael Steele / © ICC/Getty Images
Ashwin has been dogged with injuries to the point where he thought of quitting the game. "There was insensitivity towards [my] injury," he says. "It scarred me deeply" Michael Steele / © ICC/Getty Images
Due to these injuries I have got into front-on positions, side-on positions, slingy positions and all that. I have all that in my head and I get into all these positions to check how my body is responding. For example, if I bowl legbreaks, my shoulder will start hurting from one side of the scapula because it has been overused by the other side. I will get into all these positions so that I feel the pain and then I address the pain.
Ideal preparation time is six weeks. If you have six weeks, you can get through a four-five Test series just through maintenance. Last two years I have been making sure I get into every series at a certain weight and maintain it.
Do you do all this under the supervision of your personal trainer?
When I was struggling with injuries, I was struggling for answers as to why I was getting injured. I even started to study strength and conditioning myself because the injuries were taking a toll both on my career and my mental health.
I started strength training in 2009, but very basic. In 2012, Rajamani [AT Rajamani Prabhu] came to my house and told me, "I want to be your trainer and will make a difference." From 2012 to 2015 or 2016, he used to do everything for me and he used to co-ordinate with Sudarshan, the team trainer. Then when Shanker Basu became the India trainer, the methods were completely different. And when you have a trainer who is doing some different stuff and is completely left field and is the India trainer, it is better if you follow those protocols. It is easier for everyone.
Eventually I went back to Rajamani. I hadn't trained with him for two years. He had taken it personally. He, too, had studied to be a better trainer. He had basically caught up with some of Basu's methodology. I had to tell him, "I don't want you to do what Basu does for me. Do what you do for me." And there were A, B and C things I studied that I shouldn't have been doing. That's how I got back on the road. I am deeply indebted to Rajamani and Basu.
Was there a period when you felt, "I might not be around for long"?
Between 2018 and 2020, I contemplated giving up the sport at various points. I thought, "I have put in a lot of effort, but it is not coming through." The harder I tried, the farther it felt. Especially with athletic pubalgia and the patellar tendonitis - I used to bowl six balls and then I used to be gasping for breath. And there would be pain all over the place. So you needed to make adjustments. When the knee pain got excruciating, the next ball I would probably jump less. When I jumped less, obviously the force needs to be produced through the core and the back and the shoulders, so the pubalgia would act up. So the third ball I would be extra side-on to try to use the hips. By the time I was done with six balls, I would be like, "I need a break here."
"You can brand me anything, you can kick me out, all that is fine, but to doubt my intent or my fight is something that deeply hurt me"
I contemplated retirement for a lot of reasons. I felt like people were not sensitive enough to my injuries. I felt like a lot of people were backed, why not me? I have done no less. I have won a lot of games for the team, and I am not feeling backed. I don't usually look for help - that somebody needs to back me, that somebody needs to cushion me or give me empathy. I felt I was not being able to be excellent and felt I needed a shoulder to lean on. It was not happening. I thought maybe I should try to find something else and be excellent at that.
When was this?
Just after the England series in 2018, after Southampton, was one phase. Again, in Australia later that year where I tore my abdomen after the Adelaide Test, before and after Sydney. Many stages. The only person I would be talking to was my wife. But my father was hell-bent: you will make a comeback in white-ball cricket, and I will see that before I die. For him it was more personal.
People tend to say things about you getting injured away and not at home.
People probably know of such precedents with other cricketers, but I just felt like it was aimed at getting at me. Maybe they believed they were right in doing so. I've got no issues with that. But injuries do happen to people. Only when it hits them personally do they have the empathy. Empathy is being able to put yourself in others' shoes, and feel, "Hey what if it happens to me?" I feel as a cricketing community, we lack that.
When did you think about giving it one more shot with Rajamani?
Ah, that was about at the end of the Aussie series in 2019. I went for a county stint before the South Africa home series. Rajamani and I worked extensively for about eight to ten weeks before that. He's very hands-on. He travelled with me during the 2019 IPL.
This one final shot was to get my body physically ready. I believed if I was physically all right, nobody can stop me. So at least I can look back at myself and say, "You know, I gave it everything." And if it didn't work, I was okay to live with that. And that is why I believe giving that one shot was important.
On Ravi Shastri saying that Kuldeep Yadav was India's lead overseas spinner after his performance in the Sydney Test of 2019: "If I feel like I am being thrown under the bus, how am I supposed to come for a party to enjoy the team's or team-mate's success?"
Matthew Lewis / © ICC/Getty Images
On Ravi Shastri saying that Kuldeep Yadav was India's lead overseas spinner after his performance in the Sydney Test of 2019: "If I feel like I am being thrown under the bus, how am I supposed to come for a party to enjoy the team's or team-mate's success?" Matthew Lewis / © ICC/Getty Images
When Kuldeep Yadav took those five wickets in Sydney and Ravi Shastri said he was India's No. 1 overseas spinner, he said: "There is a time for everyone." Which I felt suggested somebody else's time had come and gone. Did that have any impact on you?
I hold Ravi bhai in high esteem. We all do. In that moment, though, I felt crushed. Absolutely crushed. We all talk about how important it is to enjoy your team-mates' success. And I was happy for Kuldeep. I have not been able to get a five-for but he has a five-for in Australia. I know how big it is. Even when I have bowled well [at other times], I haven't ended up with a five-for. So I am genuinely happy for him. And it's an extremely happy occasion, to win in Australia.
But if I have to come and partake in his happiness, and the success of the team, I must feel like I belong there. If I feel like I am being thrown under the bus, how am I supposed to get up and come for a party to enjoy the team's or team-mate's success? I went back to my room and then I spoke to my wife. And my children were there. So we were able to, you know, shrug it off, and I still made it to the party, because, end of the day, we had won a massive series.
And you played a genuine part in winning the first Test.
The first Test seemed like a distant memory by then. I had taken three of the first four wickets in the first innings after we were bowled out cheaply, and then when it got really flat in the final innings, I plugged away for 50-plus overs and took three wickets despite what turned out to be a grade-three abdomen tear. In my mind, I had done something great for the team in excruciating pain, but all I heard was, "Nathan Lyon took six, Ashwin took three."
As it is, I was frustrated with my body for letting me down when I was in really good bowling form. The last thing I needed was these comparisons and insinuations. Between that reaction and Sydney, it didn't feel like I had played any part at all.
Regarding those comments after Sydney, he might say, "Oh, this was my way of motivating him, lighting a fire under him." We have seen that with Rishabh Pant.
Motivation is for those who need it. But when someone is going through a tough phase in life and needs an arm around his shoulder… that was a tough phase in my life.
"About ten overs into a spell, all of a sudden there would be no energy going through the body. Then I tore my abdomen, I tore my adductors. It was like dominos"
I have attended many press conferences where injured players have been protected. In that Australia series, a point was made before every match to announce that R Ashwin had failed a fitness test. Which was rather strange to see in Indian cricket. The next cricket you played for India was the Test series at home against South Africa. You must have been nervous.
I was very nervous for about eight months, ten months. Every match I played. Athletic pubalgia is something that you feel all the time, like, there is some feeling around the abdomen, around the adductor or something. So even if it was like a nerve moved here or there or some stiffness, I'd feel like, "Has it gone? Should I protect it before it's gone? Should I strap it?" That sort of paranoia.
I think my self-awareness is very high. And I think a lot. So it was even harder for me. If you get injured, and you're coming back, it'll still be in your head. But if you get injured and go through the kind of mental trauma I had to go through, it is even more difficult. And I think I'm extremely well placed for the experience. I'm very well placed to face the adversities of life, for which I'm grateful.
It had become a psychological thing. I have never feared failure in my life. So to go out there on the ground and fail in terms of performance, it's fine. Like MS Dhoni always said, it is processes versus result. I believe I certainly have cracked the process. And I don't fear failing in front of millions or billions of people. It means nothing. At least I have got the [opportunity] to go out there and succeed or fail, which most people don't get.
I was 32 - when probably the prime for a spinner is still ahead of him. I was not ready to throw in the towel. And I felt like I was being asked to, through the failings of my body. If I had broken down again during the South Africa series, I would have said, "This body is not meant to be." Thankfully I got through the entire series.
How did you manage the trauma?
I've got a mentor I'm deeply indebted to.
The first thing you do when you go through this is to feel victimised. It is the easiest, most human, thing that you can do. Once you get through that sort of feeling, you get a lot of clarity. For every person that becomes a victim, there are so many people you can blame. But if you've got the tenacity and the will power to keep working, you will automatically go beyond the barriers of people.
"As long as you can see people for what they are and give them the benefit of doubt and empathy, you will be fine"
Michael Steele / © AFP/Getty Images
"As long as you can see people for what they are and give them the benefit of doubt and empathy, you will be fine" Michael Steele / © AFP/Getty Images
So like in the case of Ravi bhai and how crushed I was, I know a lot of people with such experiences would hold it against him forever, but I'm not one of them. I am actually happy to sit across the table and have a conversation about it. And it is not about him at all for me. Because anybody can make a mistake. So I've started seeing things beyond people. People can change their opinions. People can be bad today but they can be good tomorrow. As long as you can see people for what they are and give them the benefit of doubt and empathy, you will be fine.
This is not some spiritual or mental jargon that I'm giving. I'm genuinely like this.
You can't control what people do to you, you can control how you react.
Exactly. Look, when you get dropped, is it in your control? No, it's somebody else's choice. So do I hold it against the person who's dropped me? For all you know, that person could be doing the best for the team. And to make it personal is not something I want to do.
Yeah. His job also depends on India winning. So he will do what he believes is best for India.
Whatever he believes, whether it is right or wrong, is something I'm happy to debate, because in my head, I will believe I can also win India the match. But only when you have a conversation will I know which side of the fence I'm standing on. Like, if I'm dropped and if there is a genuine reason, and there is a genuine dialogue and conversation between the decision-makers, stakeholders and the player, then it's not personal, it's a question of judgement. But when the dialogue is not happening, in my head I cannot make peace with it. Not everybody needs it, but I do.
We have seen a calmer Ashwin in the last year and a half. Is that perspective something you developed during the pandemic?
It started well before that. I worked with a mental-conditioning coach for four to six months. He helped me psychologically, he was my bouncing board, he was a mirror for a while.
Any time you speak to anybody when you're going through a tumultuous time, all that most people will tell you is how you can get better, how the mistake could be on your side, rather than saying somebody else has done something wrong.
Now both these approaches are wrong. That's what I feel. When somebody comes to you for help, don't tell them they're wrong, don't tell them the other person is wrong. You just need to be a sounding board and take them in a different direction. Which is exactly what he did. The first conversation I had with him, I said, "Boss, if you're also going to say that I am the one at fault, then I don't want to do this. Because I've heard it all my life and I don't have time for it." He said, "Okay, okay, don't worry, I will send you a questionnaire, just fill it up." So he just took it in a different direction. And yeah, it worked.
"If I'm dropped and if there is a genuine dialogue about it, it's a question of judgement. But when the dialogue is not happening, in my head I cannot make peace with it. Not everybody needs that, but I do"
So he was solution-oriented? Like, how can you function from here?
Exactly. That's all we need to be, right? Everybody has problems, and everybody throws problems at you. There are very few people who seek to find solutions. And there are even fewer people who will give you solutions.
He's saying, instead of thinking about what has happened, what went wrong, let's think about how we can set right what is left?
He never really said that expressly. But in hindsight, I think that is how he wanted me to think. Through the therapy he never said, "This guy is wrong and you are right" or "You are wrong and he is right." He threw a different light. He listened, he was the sounding board. He made me realise that you can't communicate with everyone at the same level. There are different personality quadrants, and I should be able to place people in a specific quadrant and be able to communicate in a way that people in that quadrant respond to and don't get offended.
Earlier, whatever I felt, I'd just say and move on because that made my heart feel lighter. But somebody else was hurting because of the way I spoke.
Coming to the tactical side of preparation, how much video do you watch and when?
When England came to India, I watched their whole Sri Lanka series without missing one ball. I would immediately go back to Hari [the India analyst] and ask him what speed [Lasith] Embuldeniya was bowling, what speed Dilruwan [Perera] was bowling, what percentage of balls were within the stumps. We have this app where we can sort, so I watched again all the Dilruwan Perera videos.
For example, Joe Root will not block two balls in a row. He's got a slightly vulnerable defence, and I think he knows that. Or he's constantly on the move. So every time he defends a ball comfortably outside off, the next ball will be a sweep.
Or a reverse sweep.
No, no, they won't reverse. They will only reverse when you go around the stumps. And every time you go around the stumps, first ball, Zak Crawley, Joe Root, everybody reverse-sweeps. They just like the angle. And I see why they like the angle.
Ashwin bowls to Steve Smith in Sydney earlier this year. "Smith's batting is very momentum-driven. Most of his batting comes from his hands, so my whole idea was to disturb his hands through the series"
David Gray / © AFP/Getty Images
Ashwin bowls to Steve Smith in Sydney earlier this year. "Smith's batting is very momentum-driven. Most of his batting comes from his hands, so my whole idea was to disturb his hands through the series" David Gray / © AFP/Getty Images
So if you see, through the series, I don't think Joe Root really swept me dominantly. Like, he would have got singles out of it. But he would have not got very many boundaries. At Chepauk [at 40 for 2] in the second innings, under immense pressure, he walked out and played two sweeps over square leg. And in the first innings I hadn't given him a boundary on the sweep. So after reaching 100, he slogged me for a six towards the end of the day. But he never really played a conventional sweep and got boundaries off me. [Root hit Ashwin for three swept boundaries off 19 sweep shots in the four-Test series; in two Tests in Sri Lanka, he swept the main spinners 43 and 39 times.]
So your app gives you video of all matches ball by ball?
I make an effort. I call up the analytics company if something is not on the app. Usually all India games are there. We get only boundaries and wickets for other games. For me, it is important that I watch every ball.
Having been a batter myself, I know if a batter has to step out or sweep against me, he needs to make a move because I am not one of those guys who is slow through the air. So you need to make a move pretty early. And I can change at the last moment. So I can judge a step-out. I read sweeps and reverse sweeps pretty easily. Sometimes even when the batter is getting a single off the sweep, I give myself a chance to get him out.
So you have the information from watching this footage well before going into a series.
I will watch every single ball. And I will watch slow-mo, super slow-mo. I try and see if I can dissect it. If there are differences in triggers, use split-screen. If I'm not able to entirely dissect it, I go to Hari and ask him to put a split screen on Ball A, Ball B, Ball C.
By the time I get to the game, I don't want to leave any stone unturned. I've always been pretty good assessing a batsman on the field, but over the last three, four years, I think I've taken my assessment analytically to another level because I felt like I can't miss even 0.5% advantage I might get.
Then when you go into Australia, Steve Smith, what are your plans?
I made him my obsession for about six months, not just two weeks or three weeks. Just footage, just watching different matches. The most recent series they played [before India toured Australia in 2020-21] was New Zealand. I went through every single day's play. I would go on my app and check - how many runs was [Marnus] Labuschagne batting on when Will Somerville came on to bowl? Which ball did he hit over cow corner?
"I know if a batter has to step out or sweep against me, he needs to make a move, because I am not one of those guys who is slow through the air. You need to make a move pretty early. And I can change at the last moment"
I think there is a bit of premeditation when it comes to Aussie batsmen. I think in this whole "playing the Aussie way", they are looking for aggressive options. Obviously Aussie pitches are very true. So you can get away without getting to the pitch of the ball sometimes, which can be very disconcerting [for the bowler]. As a spinner you need to be very precise in Australia. Every run you give must be on your own terms.
So whenever Marnus Labuschagne steps out, he hits the ball over cow corner for an offspinner, or he hits it over mid-off. It's very rarely through long-on. And he doesn't have a flat sweep, he has a lap sweep, like a paddle. All these shots have a trigger. And it's very fine. If you don't know or if you've not seen enough footage, you cannot pick these things up.
And with Steve Smith, his batting is very momentum-driven. Most of his batting comes from his hands, so my whole idea was to disturb his hands through the series. He's got certain hand-movement patterns. You have to pick them and be able to bowl in a way that disturbs his hand pattern. So I bowled with different load-ups, different speeds, different run-ups and all that. I realised I kind of got to him.
What do you aim for in a warm-up match? Or if there's no warm-up, the four or five days of training before you reach the Test venue?
Especially when travelling abroad, dismissing the tail is important. I've been trying to practise a couple of deliveries. I might give them a go in South Africa. So just a few different balls, which I try and get away with in a practice game. Then I need to get used to the ball.
When you get in a side-on position, the Dukes ball can drift extensively and start pitching outside leg for a left-hander. With the Dukes, when you bowl scrambled seam, you might not necessarily get the desired result sometimes. With the Kookaburra ball, the shapes are pretty good, so you can use a scrambled seam in a certain way. But with Dukes the ball can feel a little too big in the hand, so sometimes the scrambled seam won't work. The chances of catching the glossy side are higher. You don't want to do that. But on pitches where you got bounce and carry, I think scrambled seam can be used to good advantage.
So I try and see if scrambled seam is giving me the result. If you bowl the same ball with the normal rotational seam, it will pitch on off stump. If you bowl with the square seam, it will pitch maybe on middle stump. And if you bowl scrambled seam, it might pitch fifth stump. So these are things that you need to check in a warm-up game.
Ashwin against South Africa in Visakhapatnam in 2019, his first Test in nearly a year. "If I had broken down again, I would have said. 'This body is not meant to be.' Thankfully I got through the entire series"
Mahesh Kumar A / © Associated Press
Ashwin against South Africa in Visakhapatnam in 2019, his first Test in nearly a year. "If I had broken down again, I would have said. 'This body is not meant to be.' Thankfully I got through the entire series" Mahesh Kumar A / © Associated Press
I go through my usual routine of going a little side-on, staying a little front-on, loading behind the shoulder, loading in front of the shoulder. Then try and use different wrist positions, where I'm loading facing the batsman and loading where I'm facing the non-striker. So everything I check. I don't rate these warm-up games as competitive games. They are a great laboratory.
For me it's more about going through the action. Run-up speed, rhythm, the stride length of my run-up, last stride, jump, side-on position, front-on, semi-open, hyperextension, everything. There's a lot of things I need to go through.
And once you get to the venue of the Test, there's two days of nets. What are you looking for there?
For a spinner, length is mandatory and line is optional. I feel like at some of the venues, when you spin the ball it falls fuller than you want to. And that could be due to many reasons. So I go back and understand that my contact points need to be better. My length is directly related to the foot's contact point on the floor. I asked Anil bhai [Kumble] when he was the coach. He said, "If the ball is falling fuller, bowl from behind the crease." I tried it, but for some reason it didn't work for me. I bowl from behind the crease when I feel like I want to. For a certain purpose.
I feel my contact points are very important. So, for example, if I let go of the ball the moment I feel my [front] foot touch the floor, it will fall in a particular place. My foot lands heel to toe. If I release the ball when I feel the toe has landed, it will give different results. If I reduce my stride length and increase my run-up speed, it will give me a different result. So in every single place, with every single ball, this will start giving you different results. If you can master that first and get an understanding of the conditions, you'll be fine.
Sometimes there is not enough time when we go on these overseas tours to be able to do so much, sometimes you're learning as you're playing the game, which is why the first five overs will be different to the next five or six.
So much depends on how the foot is landing?
I can delay [release of the ball] depending on the result. These are internal triggers. The end result might be something else, but I expect it to be somewhat along the lines I think it will be. Like, in Australia I would wait for the entire toe to transfer, the body weight moving forward, and then release, so that I gave them less time in the air. A lot of batters see the release point and step out. So, for instance, someone sees my arm at 90 degrees, near my neck, he will probably think that it is a nice, flighted ball. So I wait for my toe to touch the floor and then push forward and bowl the ball, which means he has stepped out and I've got a little bit more time.
"Earlier, whatever I felt, I'd just say and move on because that made my heart feel lighter. But somebody else was hurting because of the way I spoke"
Everybody's body is trained in a certain fashion to pick up cues. So more often than not, I think people see where the release is and they step out or go back or whatever it is. Some people go on trajectory. I think I have the ability to delay or make it early. And doing it early or late, I still don't miss my length, which is why I have these triggers of landing - the contact point on the floor.
What do you do between matches?
I revisit my experiences, how somebody has played me, what have been their go-to shots, how they milked me if they milked me, how am I going to produce something different. What has worked, what has not worked. That is what process and result is, right? Just simply repeating the process is not process. So this has worked, fine stick to this. This has not worked, can I throw in something else?
In the case of, say, Steven Smith, he is someone who thinks. Like after the first Test [where Smith was caught on the crease and edged to slip], the second instance, he came searching for the ball on the front foot. That was a reaction to the first [dismissal]. So if you know someone is searching for excellence, they will try and find a solution. And you can be prepared for that solution.
Between the first and second Tests, you have three days. In those three days, do you watch every ball again?
I managed to get footage of Smith and Labuschagne from every single nets session. Some from behind, some from side-on. In Melbourne they even got [former Sri Lanka offspinner] Suraj Randiv to the nets, I think for similar height or high-arm [to me] or whatever. Labuschagne's entire intent was to go through the off side because he tried to step out and got beaten in the flight in Adelaide. He was going to go on the back foot and crash everything to the off side so that I changed my pace or something. In the nets he would chip and charge to just try to drive to mid-on and then just sit back and try and score through the off side.
So I was prepared for it. In fact, just when Marnus came in [in the second Test], there was a bat-pad chance, which ballooned over Puji's [Cheteshwar Pujara's] head, and then he started to play through the off side. And when he is playing through the off side, he doesn't want to come forward.
Operation Marnus, at the MCG last year: over the stumps, a couple of drives to the off, then go around the stumps and get him caught on the crease
Darrian Traynor / © Cricket Australia/Getty Images
Operation Marnus, at the MCG last year: over the stumps, a couple of drives to the off, then go around the stumps and get him caught on the crease Darrian Traynor / © Cricket Australia/Getty Images
And there was good drift at MCG, so I went round the stumps. The moment you go round the stumps, Marnus has this habit of seeing the line and sitting down for a flat sweep. He doesn't sweep flat [when you're bowling] from over the stumps. He only paddles from over. When you go round, it's a compulsory hard sweep. I think he did that to Somerville. So the moment I shifted the angle, I knew he was going to sweep. These guys, when somebody goes round the stumps, they don't think they have the ability to pitch the ball on the stumps. Or maybe that's the spin they play. So I went to the corner of the crease, and then because of the breeze, I just made sure that he saw it at the left of his eyeline. And the ball drifted nicely. He went to sweep and got jammed and got hit on the pads, and he was given out but the DRS saved him on the bounce.
And the next innings, again same. Over the stumps, give him a couple of drives to the off side and then move round the stumps. This time he didn't want to sweep, and he had got out stepping out and trying to hit in Adelaide. So those shots are out. And now the only option available to him was going through the off side. So the moment he saw one flat, he went back and the ball drifted. It was flat and full and he got caught. As he was going back, he was telling himself to come forward. You can check it in the footage.
Close to three years after those retirement thoughts, you have gone past Harbhajan Singh on India's top Test wicket-takers' list. You will be past Kapil Dev soon. You have made a T20I comeback. What's next?
Honestly, I don't care now. I am at that stage of my career where I have no time for external noise. I just want to play cricket. The one thing I needed to figure out was: why was my mind wanting to give up? Why did I want to quit? I was not enjoying the game. Why? Because the factors were all external. If I turned my attention inwards, I could enjoy the game. All I needed to accept was, whatever happens, if I am in the team, if I am not in the team, if I perform, if I don't perform, it will be on my terms.
And when I boarded that flight to Australia, I genuinely told myself: This is your last tour. This is your last f***ing tour. Do not leave any stone unturned. Be extremely prepared when you get your first opportunity. It might not be the first game. It might be the second, it might be the third, it might be the fourth. Or you might sit out the entire series. I expected to sit out the entire series. I took my family along because I needed their support if I was not playing.
You tell yourself this is your last tour. And you get there and learn you are not getting the first match.
It doesn't matter. For me, cricket is beyond me just playing. For about eight months I didn't watch a single game India played in white-ball formats. That is when it hit me: I am going through mental trauma. So I called my mental-conditioning coach and said, "Boss, for me to not watch cricket is unreal." Tomorrow if I am not playing or if I quit or someone kicks me out, I will still watch the game. Because I love it.
"The first conversation I had with my mental-conditioning coach, I said, 'If you're also going to say that I am at fault, then I don't want to do this. Because I don't have time for it.' He said, 'Okay, don't worry', and he just took it in a different direction"
And if I am not able to watch it, it is clearly telling me it is personal. Whether it is personal or not personal for the other person, I don't care. I can't take it personally because I have the intelligence to be better than that.
But I had solutions. I believe that is why I got the opportunity. If I didn't have the solutions, maybe I wouldn't have got the opportunity. Maybe that sounds very spiritual but that is how it is.
Then Jadeja gets injured and you are told you are playing. Did you prepare as if you were going to play in Adelaide even though you weren't?
Absolutely. If I didn't play, I didn't play. If Jaddu plays and Jaddu bowls, I can learn. I can learn sitting outside about what these batters are doing. And maybe I will get my chance next game. I can't say I am not playing and switch off, and bang, an opportunity comes [to play] and you fail. I can't take that chance.
Your wife tweeted after the MCG win that she had never ever seen you happier. That is something to say.
Indian cricket is all about superstardom, right? Which Tom, Dick or Harry gave India any chance after 36 all out? After the Melbourne Test, I felt like, "You know what, I have won quite a lot of games for my country. And here I am, putting my hand up to win yet another game." There was that relief. It is kind of idiotic, but that's how the world works.
I am sure if I was part of the team, and I was told that one person is going back home after the first Test, so you'll lose 4-0, I'd also get annoyed.
Rightly so. And it's not that one person's fault. That is the power of perception. People do believe that. Who contested that? Who said there is Pujara, there is [Ajinkya] Rahane, there is [Jasprit] Bumrah, there is Ashwin. Who said that? Nobody. It's not like these guys have not turned up and won games for their country.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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