13 years on, Ashwin returns to Chepauk in search of IPL glory again | Crickit
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13 years on, Ashwin returns to Chepauk in search of IPL glory again

May 23, 2024 08:38 PM IST

The off-spinner won his last IPL title with CSK in 2011 and he would love nothing more than to add another one on his 'home ground'

Ravichandran Ashwin was 24 when he last won the Indian Premier League (IPL) trophy. Competitive, he has always been. When younger, he was feisty too.

Ravichandran Ashwin in action at the MA Chidambaram Stadium during IPL 2024(IPL)
Ravichandran Ashwin in action at the MA Chidambaram Stadium during IPL 2024(IPL)

In Chennai Super Kings’ yellow, he would give send-offs to batters and engage in spirited tackles to celebrate wickets. When CSK won back-to-back titles (2010 and 2011) – the last one in Chennai - Ashwin was yet to play the first of his 100 Test matches. But this was the tournament that catapulted him into stardom before he charted his path to greatness in Test cricket.

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Thirteen years later, Ashwin returns home to the M Chidambaram stadium on Friday against Sunrisers Hyderabad as a completely different T20 bowler. Or should one say, the format itself has metamorphosed into a very different brand – dominanted by boundaries and tactics.

Ashwin, never one to miss a beat, has kept pace. From being MS Dhoni’s wicket-taking Powerplay weapon, the 37-year-old is now more of a defensive spinner, who sees greater merit in restricting the boundaries than risking runs for wickets. “I cannot shirk my responsibility of bowling dot balls or bowling economically, but in the process, if I’m getting wickets, I’m getting wickets,” he has said.

Many experts are at odds with Ashwin’s thesis on T20 bowling. That wouldn’t put him off. Being his own man is in his DNA. “People are wrong when they say, he is an overthinker. That’s what you do to improve,” father Ravichandran told HT while watching Ashwin play his 100th Test in March.

Whether searching for wickets or not, Ashwin hasn’t stopped enhancing his bowling repertoire. The carrom ball and reverse carrom ball – that’s how he got Cameron Green and Glenn Maxwell out in the eliminator on Wednesday – are a product of his constant evolution. So also, the occasional leg-spinner, the wider-arm delivery for getting greater side-spin. ‘Every ball an event’, as he puts it, to keep the batter guessing.

Even with Ashwin’s worldview, his performances in the first half of the ongoing season were poor. In the first 8 matches he played, Ashwin had only 1 wicket to show at an economy rate of 9. He’s corrected those figures greatly by picking up 7 wickets in his 5 previous matches at an ER of 6.81.

While Ashwin again riled up experts by calling wicket-taking ‘sometimes irrelevant’ in T20s, he was more candid after regaining form.

“My body was not moving at all (in early matches). My action was not complete. For me it is more about hitting the rhythm and the right lengths. When you come from Test match mode, your body also needs to get into it. I am ageing so it’s not easy. As the tournament went on, I got that amount of bowling time,” he told broadcaster Ian Bishop on Wednesday.

Perhaps, it wouldn’t matter as much to Ashwin if he did not win an IPL title again. He's won a World Cup, achieved peak success in whites and experienced the joy of lifting IPL silverware for CSK. But now with CSK out, cricket fans in the city would want to support Ashwin’s Rajasthan Royals. Afterall, Ashwin is the most recognisable local player among the remaining three playoff teams.

One is not sure if knowledgeable cricket fans in Chennai see it that way, but Ashwin is the tallest India cricketer to have come from Tamil Nadu. Even though S Venkataraghvan and Krishnamachari Srikkanth went on to lead India. For Gen Z perhaps, their adopted superhero MS Dhoni matters more. Even then, they wouldn’t forget Ashwin was one of Dhoni’s most trusted lieutenants in CSK’s early wins.

For someone who would turn up just like that to the SSN college ground for a local match and bowl a 10-over spell to prepare for an ODI World Cup, make it a point to visit his school coach C. K. Vijaya Kumar at St Bede’s ground; gunning for another IPL title in front of friends and family at Chepauk, a few kilometres away from his school ground would be nothing less than therapeutic.

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