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When Ashwin went through 'very dark time'...

Source: PTI
February 16, 2024 19:48 IST
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'For me, the lowest point was the phase between 2018 and 2019.'

IMAGE: Overall, Ravichandran Ashwin is only the ninth bowler and the fifth spinner to take 500 wickets in Test cricket. Photograph: BCCI

Ravichandran Ashwin became the second Indian bowler after Anil Kumble to take 500 Test wickets during the third Test against England -- a feat which means a lot to the spinner after enduring a phase when he did know how to come out of the 'dark tunnel' he had hit.

Ashwin also became only the fifth spinner overall to achieve the feat and continues to be the second highest wicket-taker for India behind Kumble, who ended his career with 619 scalps.

The 37-year-old reached the milestone on Day 2 of the third Test in Rajkot on Friday. He needed just one wicket for the feat and that came in the way of opener Zak Crawley, who top-edged the sweep shot and was caught by Rajat Patidar at short fine leg.


The desire to excel and evolve has remained very intrinsic to Ravichandran Ashwin's core existence but between 2018-19, the ace spinner felt that it was all over for him, leave alone thinking about having a shot at 500 Test wickets.

Overall, Ashwin is only the ninth bowler and the fifth spinner to take 500 wickets in Test cricket. He got to the landmark of 500 wickets in his 98th Test match at an average of 23, with 34 five-wicket hauls.

The off-spinner did speak about the darkest phase of his career when he felt that he was hitting a 'bottomless pit'.     

"For me, life has been all about ups and downs and for me the lowest point was the phase between 2018 and 2019. I was the ICC Cricketer of the Year and I was on top of the world and from there to actually go to a really, really bottomless pit, was a very dark time in my life," Ashwin told Kumble after stumos on Day 2.

Someone who has been a fierce competitor, Ashwin said that was the phase when he really didn't know if he would ever be able to derive the joy of playing cricket.

It was in 2018, when his abdominal injury prevented him from giving his best against England on a rank turner at Southampton. While off-spinner Moeen Ali emerged England's match-winner, taking 9 wickets in the game, Ashwin took a measly 3 wickets from nearly 52 overs in both innings as India finished on the losing side.

At the end of the year, the series against Australia was equally bad as he didn't compete in full series after bowling 86 overs in the first Test in Adelaide, forcing the then skipper Virat Kohli to urge him to do "course correction".

While Ashwin didn't take any names, it was the same phase that he spoke about when he didn't know the way to make a comeback.

"Generally I am not someone who is fazed by the downs of life because when I really have a good day, I just talk to my parents, my wife and watch good movie and go to sleep. When I am down, I am not really beaten and I do think about it and always come out on the other side of it.

"But that was a really, really dark tunnel for me as I didn't know what hit me and how I got placed there. And then I had a couple of injuries, adductor strain and it was a really dark phase and when I thought, I was almost done then," he revealed.

IMAGE: Ravichandran Ashwin was the fastest to 300 Test wickets, having got there in 54 Tests in 2017. Photograph: BCCI

However the COVID-19 pandemic gave him the perspective and he rediscovered what he loved most -- playing cricket.

"We were hit by pandemic and it gave me really good reflection of life and what I wanted to play for, find new meanings. This game is all I love and I think I had lost the love for that and I had to rediscover it."

Ashwin has been one astute reader of the game, who is very aware about his numbers and he didn't shy away from admitting that 500 wickets does mean a lot.

"Look I would be lying if I say 500 doesn't mean anything. It does mean a lot but it has not sunk in yet but like I said, from 2020, the way I look at the game and way my life has been is very different to what it was earlier," he added.

Following the Kumble and Harbhajan Singh era, Ashwin had big shoes to fill and he has done that with remarkable consistency.

In his first 16 Tests, Ashwin had snared nine five-wicket hauls as he enjoyed a dream start to Test cricket.

He was the fastest to 300 Test wickets, having got there in 54 Tests in 2017.

"Sometimes playing becomes a job and you look at it as a profession and moment it happens, then it can get monotonous and lonely. Rediscovering the joy of playing the game is the greatest unravelling of who I am," he said.

Having made his Test debut in 2011, Ashwin has come a long way. The engineering graduate from Chennai started out as a top-order batter and tried his hand at medium pace bowling before settling for the role of an off-spinner, a decision that was forced by a back injury during his teenage years.

"The desire to excel hasn't changed and evolving as a cricketer has remained very organic to me and first question that hung in-front of me was whether I was a good enough red ball bowler because I had come through IPL."

For Ashwin, his critics have also helped him grow.

 "More than people who teach you, I think the critics take you very high, if you want to take criticism in the right yards and make the right effort, I think excellence is the only way forward," he said.

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