CHENNAI: Ace spinner R Ashwin is confident that India will do well against New Zealand in next month’s World Test Championship (WTC) final. The offie currently has 409 Test wickets and has a chance to surpass Harbhajan Singh’s tally of 417 scalps during the course of the upcoming tour in England, which includes the WTC final and five Tests against England. During an interview with The New Indian Express, Ashwin – who is in quarantine in Mumbai – spoke about the team’s chances against NZ, his bowling and more. Excerpts:
You must be in a happy frame of mind now that your family members are much better having recovered from COVID-19?
I don’t think anybody can be in a happy state of mind considering what’s going on around us. I think in the entire crisis, my family members can count ourselves to be lucky because they got infected just before the peak.
But the one thing I’m very proud of is that people are taking it upon themselves and helping one another. I’m sure a lot of volunteers are helping. I am very proud to call myself an Indian as people are coming out and they’re reaching out to one another. I really hope that people take vaccines and behave responsibly over the next couple of years because I don’t think COVID-19 is going away in a hurry.
With so much negativity around, how difficult is it to play?
As players, one thing we all realized is that even amidst all this negativity, we were able to put a smile on people’s faces. We definitely understand that a lot of people are not being able to lead their normal lives. But we realize that we can also put a smile on their faces, which is something that all cricketers can take pride in. Everybody inside the team definitely empathises and understands what’s going on. And our thoughts are with all those people who are struggling.
How do you fancy India’s chances in the WTC final?
We are at least another week to 10 days away from even practising for the first time. Most of the players have not played cricket since the IPL was called off. So I think that is one of the biggest challenges, but once we go there I think the Indian team will adapt quickly and perform like we did in Australia.
New Zealand get to play two Tests against England before the WTC final. Are they better prepared?
Being match-prepared and having match practice are two different things. We will be going after the IPL. Those two matches will give New Zealand a feeler, but at the same time, watching those two matches can also give some valuable lessons to us. One of the things that I have benefited from is watching cricket footage, going back in time and watching matches in different parts of the world.
Both Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane were not at their best against England at home. Some feel that they play better abroad. Will they click against New Zealand and England?
When things are not going right, we always feel a new commodity or a different commodity will do much better. When you are talking about people who have played in excess of 50 Test matches (Rahane) and played in excess of 75 Test matches (Pujara) and have been champion performers, we are forgetting things. We just don’t look at the champion performance that Rahane produced on the way to the greatest Test series we played in Australia. He batted beautifully and got a hundred (at MCG).
Many are saying that the difference between the two sides will be Rishabh Pant. Do you agree?
We all know what sort of player Rishabh is. He can take the game away from the opposition. We have the luxury of batting the keeper at No. 6 and playing five bowlers, which is so crucial for the combination. His natural bat swing and fearless approach make him a special player and a talent to watch.
Coming to the England series, can India beat England in their own backyard for the first time since 2007?
England play good cricket on their pitches and they have shown how good they are in their conditions. James Anderson will make it as difficult as it can be for us. The conditions are key in England, but the experience that this Indian team has should hold us in good stead. If other players chip in and make runs with Virat Kohli around, we stand a good chance to win.
Rahul Dravid has said that the battle between you and Ben Stokes could be an interesting subplot. What is it that makes you bowl well to top left-handed batsmen?
Out of the 400-odd wickets, I have performed equally well against right-handers and taken almost an equal number of wickets. The idea of bowling to good players is to enjoy the challenge. I believe in being thoroughly prepared for anybody from No. 1 to No. 11.
During the course of the England tour, you have a chance to become the most successful off-spinner from India. Does this weigh on your mind?
Until you asked me this question, it did not even cross my mind. It is something I never imagined as a child, I am probably living a dream I didn’t even have. I did not even think I will be an off-spinner till I was 17 or 18. I decided to just focus on the process and not on the results. It looks like a cliched line, but it’s what I have done.