I live for big and pressure moments: Ravichandran Ashwin

The India all-rounder predicts a bright future for Hardik Pandya as a white-ball captain and has not given up his dreams of leading the country one day
Pic : AP
Pic : AP
CHENNAI: India's ace all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin, who had a wonderful Test series in Bangladesh, is preparing in earnest for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy which begins next month. The four-Test series against Australia is important as it provides an opportunity for India to gain valuable points and make it to the final of the World Test Championship.

Ashwin is confident of India doing well in the series and believes that it will be an exciting contest. At home, he has done exceptionally well and is always expected to take the majority of the workload. But Ashwin insists that it is a team sport and that all the players will share the responsibility and do well in the series. While training hard at his academy on Thursday, the all-rounder took some time off to talk exclusively with The New Indian Express. Excerpts...
On maintaining his fitness over the years
The training methods, physiotherapy and recovery methods are really much better from the time I started playing cricket. So, I think it is really helpful for professionals like us to keep fit.  Most importantly I want to be as excellent as I can be. You know there is a certain benchmark that people like to set in their career. Even at this stage of my career, I want to keep that benchmark going. This year I was supposed to play the Ranji Trophy, but what happened was I played the games in Bangladesh and when I came back I had to look after my niggles a little bit. I have just taken a small break and I'm putting myself through a four-week programme where I'm strengthening my entire body.

On preparations for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy
I have started my training. I have been dreaming (about the series) and I've been doing some yoga. I've been religiously doing yoga over the last year or so. I think it's just helped me feel much better. (As for the skills) I've definitely put in a lot of work on my batting. My batting has really been upscale over the last 18 months or so. I put in a lot of work whenever a home series happens. I'm expecting (Ravindra) Jadeja to come through (be fit in time) but I like expanding more angles. I got some things in my head. I've been watching Australia play in Australia. I'd like to be working on some different angles, something new.

On what he expects from the high-profile series
Whenever Australia tour (India), they have always done well, even the last Border-Gavaskar Trophy (2017), in my opinion, was one of the best series that we played. And we also went back there and again managed to retain the trophy. It is always exciting. I don't expect anything less than high voltage cricket. And I expect a lot of intensity. Australia and England are the best prepared teams that come to India and Australia take it one notch higher. I'm really looking forward to an exciting series.

With the extra pressure of WTC final qualification, will there be more responsibility on you?
I think I'm well past the stage where I say I'm taking so much responsibility or getting pressurized or bogged down by all these things. I mean, we should also be able to share our workload and lean on our teammates to do the job. We've got a quality set up that, I expect, will help us deliver. I would be walking in with some extraordinary cricketers by my side, so that clearly must ease some pressure from my perspective.

On handling expectations of doing well at home
When you play for India, expectations are going to be there. You're bound to have expectations. But you can't allow that to bog yourself down. You know, I am someone who lives for the big moments and pressure moments. So for me, anytime there is a big match, any time there's a lot of pressure I really enjoy it. So, I'm looking forward to the pressure.

If we see the pattern against Australia, putting runs on the board and applying pressure on them has been the key. KL Rahul had an indifferent form in Bangladesh and Rohit Sharma, too, is coming back from injury. How important will their contribution be for the series?
I think, for any Test team, openers are very, very important. Both are quality players and should do well. They have the talent to shine and all we need is to just  back them.

It is unfortunate that Rishabh Pant met with an accident. Will India miss his services against Australia?
I can't comment on that because I don't know whether he'll be there.

But reports have come that Pant will definitely not be available because it would take a lot of time to recover from injuries and surgeries...

Pant is a good player. He's done really well for us. He had a great Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia last time. I'm sure more than anything else, I think it will be a sense of relief for teams travelling because he has definitely changed the tempo of the game. But this is not a moment where one needs to talk about his cricket. I wish him a speedy recovery.

Do you think it would be a good opportunity for KS Bharat and Abhimanyu Easwaran?
India is a country where you get very little opportunities. When you get your opportunities, you might as well put your hand up. So I think Bharat will be looking forward to it as a quality gloveman. I think he is a very underrated batter, it's a good chance.

Hardik Pandya is being groomed to be a captain on a regular basis in white-ball cricket. How is he as a captain?
He is a very smart cricketer. The thing I like about him is he is very chill. Because he's chill and relaxed, I think it will keep the team atmosphere pretty relaxed and players will perform well as a unit.

India will be playing a lot of white-ball cricket before the Test series. How long do you think it will take for a team to adapt from white-ball to red-ball?
Sometimes between T20 to Tests, it can take a bit of time like maybe in days to three weeks. It's easier to come from Tests to T20s. It's tougher to go the other way. It's not that easy.

You are now the most successful all-rounder after Kapil Dev. Did you expect to come this far at the start of your career?
I don't want to sound too humble or too skeptical. But when you do something in your life, you want to be the best at what you want to do, right? Kapil Dev is not just a great Indian cricketer, but is one of the greatest cricketers the world has seen. And if you take up the bat and the ball, I suggest, any child, any kid that is taking the ball or the bat today must be aspiring to be the best in the world. It doesn't matter who's done it in the past, you have to want to be the best in the world.

On whether it is viable to field different teams for different formats
We need to be looking at how tight our schedules and fixtures are. I think, as a start, we have a completely new-look team for the Sri Lanka series. The Board has also recently short-listed a certain number of players for the world cup which is slightly different from the team for the Tests. One cannot have completely different teams because experience is a very critical part of the game. You must be able to have youth and experience together because the exuberance of youth is important to take over the experience as well, so both are important.

Do you ever regret having not got an opportunity to lead India? Have you thought about it?
Once I hang up my boots, I think I'll have an answer for that. But until then my dreams will be open, I'll be looking forward to opportunities.
More to follow in Part II of the interview...

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