AHMEDABAD: If Harbhajan Singh hadn't suffered an injury in Australia during the 2002 tour, Anil Kumble might not even have found a second wind. Harbhajan’s absence meant Kumble not only found his place back in the XI; by the end of the tour he had re-established his stature as the side's lead spinner.
Eighteen years later, Ravichandran Ashwin may have well found his second wind. Had Ravindra Jadeja been fit for the beginning of the Australia Test series, India would have played the southpaw ahead of the off-spinner for the opening Test.
Instead, Jadeja’s hamstring injury meant the door opened for Ashwin. Since then, he has been on a roll. It led to even captain Virat Kohli revealing that Ashwin hasn't been this confident ever.
That confidence is perhaps a reflection of his persona now. He is at peace with what he has done so far. He doesn’t let outsiders influence his thoughts and he doesn't take the field to prove anything to anyone. There was a period where he did all of these. It was in this period when he would take criticisms to heart, it used to hurt him. However, since the pandemic, something has changed.
During lockdown, Ashwin stuck to what he knew as a kid: cricket. With no live matches anywhere in the world, he started his own YouTube channel. Weekly quizzes and interactions with present and past cricketers became his diet. It showed what a cricket tragic he is.
And he used the IPL in the desert to re-establish his stature. Even if he wasn't always picked in overseas Tests apart from being ignored in white-ball cricket for sometime now, he has rarely frowned. He has taken it in his strides. Rather than feeling sorry for himself, he has pushed harder and raised the bar. What's next?
He is just 34 wickets away from overtaking Kapil Dev's haul of 434 wickets. From there on, fitness permitting, there is only one more Indian to go past: Anil Kumble.
“I can't really get a grip of what's happened in the last two-three months. If I look back, I must say it's been sort of a dreamy ride, it's been a fairytale. When I started the Australia tour, I didn't expect to be playing in the XI because Jadeja was looking like he was going to start. And he got a hamstring tear and since then things have just looked upwards,” Ashwin told the host broadcaster.
From the time he burst into the Test arena, he has been reinventing himself. Even at this stage of his career, he does his homework, watching hours of video footage of opponents. At 34, Ashwin appears to be at his peak, one who understands his craft well. More importantly, there is a feeling that India now trust and back him more than ever. But for all you know, it has come at the right time. There comes a time, where even critics realise the true worth of a champion. Ashwin is at that stage now. Even those who have been critical of him, don’t pick him on anymore. We don’t know how long Ashwin will play – usually, spinners tend to retire late – but it is going to be a journey that is going to be worth enjoying.
“Getting 400 is an outstanding achievement, and still so many games and years to go for India. In Test match cricket, he is surely a modern legend and we're just lucky to have him in our team. As a captain I am so pleased he plays for us,” Kohli said.