How Ashwin spun his way to 500 Test scalps

Ashwin is going strong at 37, claiming wickets with his absolute control and consistency

Ashwin is counted among India’s best-ever spinners

Eastern Eye

SUNIL SUBRAMANIAM could never put his finger on why he failed to break into the Indian team despite being one of the country’s best leftarm spinners in the early 1990s.

It bothered him, but the pain pales in comparison to the joy his most illustrious ward, Ravichandran Ashwin, brought to his life, years after he had quit playing competitive cricket, he admits.

The 57-year-old, who taught Ashwin the nuances of spin bowling in his formative years, takes great pride in saying that the senior India spinner “was born to play Test cricket.”

“I had a lot of confidence that he would become a good Test player and a quality Test bowler, first a match-winner for the state then a match winner for India,” said Subramaniam. “At that time, it was difficult to say his journey would be this long. But it became obvious he would have a long career.

“I’d be lying to say we thought that he was going to end up playing 100 Tests. But I certainly knew that we had a Test cricketer in the making, and a good one at that,” he added.

Despite enjoying a fairly successful career in first-class cricket, Subramaniam is best known as Ashwin’s childhood coach, but he has no issues about it.

“When I met him in 2007, at the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association’s bowler’s camp, the journey started there. We had to discover the next generation of bowlers.

“Slowly, he progressed from firstclass cricket to Test cricket, his bowling evolved, and he understood how to study the wicket.

“When you play first-class cricket, you have a different mindset compared to Test cricket. You take time to adapt to the environment, but he took no time at all, and it felt like he was born to play Test cricket.”

Ashwin is going strong at 37, claiming wickets with his absolute control and consistency. Subramaniam has no reason to believe the man would hang up his boots any time soon.

“As a player, definitely about three to four years for sure at the international level, and the call will be his after that,” Subramaniam said when discussing Ashwin’s future.

“He debuted at the age of 25, how long will he be able to play? Because many people in India play cricket, how much competition will he have? If you look at the bowling attack of India in the last five to 10 years, it has become really potent.

“How long his journey will be? At every stage, he has evolved. And his bowling for the last nine years has been the fulcrum for India.”

Besides his incredible numbers, Ashwin’s quest for perfection is a matter of pride for Subramaniam.

“It is something to be happy about because we coach many players, he has performed at every level, he has maintained his balance. The way he used to bowl in the beginning, he still bowls the same, and the man is also the same,” he says.

“He has stability, and other factors did not distract him, and this is a lesson for all youngsters. If you focus on your game you can achieve anything.”

Ashwin has 516 Test wickets at present, making him only the second Indian bowler after Anil Kumble to go past the 500-wicket mark.

“He is somebody who understood the game and the wavelength was pretty good. I’m someone who was looking for an intelligent spinner and he was both intelligent and knew what he could do.

“Right from the time he made his first-class debut and the kind of bowler he was in his first 20-odd Test matches, and then to have evolved from that and to go on to reach different milestones, he has reinvented himself at every point in that journey and kept himself relevant.

“So, it has been fascinating to see the way he has evolved, developing new balls, setting up new batsmen, adapting to different conditions,” Subramaniam reveals.

Ashwin’s mother Chitra Ravichandran was lying in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a Chennai hospital, slipping in and out of consciousness as he reached 500 Test wickets.

The bowler left the team for personal reasons for a day during the third Test. But his mother had just one query for her son when she saw him by her bedside – “Why did you come?”

To this, Subramaniam says, “I have said this before, the whole family is cricket crazy. Cricket is a huge priority there, and everybody is obsessed with the game. It’s only that kind of obsession that has carried him and I am not surprised to hear all that.

“Cricket is the number one priority even during a health crisis.”