ANI Photo | “Remember Sachin paaji trying to help me out…”: Ashwin reminisces about Test debut ahead of 100th game

Ahead of his 100th Test match, Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin reminisced on his Test debut and reflected on what the milestone means for him as a player.
India and England will lock horns in the fifth and final Test of the series in Dharamshala from Thursday, which will be Ashwin’s 100th Test as well. In 99 Tests so far, Ashwin has taken 507 wickets at an average of 23.91, including 35 five-wicket hauls, with the best bowling figures of 7/59. Combine it with his tally of 3,309 runs in 140 innings at an average of 26.14, with five centuries and 14 fifties and he is one of the most successful all-rounders of the modern era.
Speaking about his debut Test match against West Indies on December 6, 2011, Ashwin told ESPNCricinfo’s The Cricket Monthly that his wife Prithi was not present at his debut match and it was legendary batter VVS Laxman who gave him his Test cap. He also recalled how Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni were there for him right from the start. Ashwin also revealed that he recently watched some videos of his debut match, in which he took nine wickets, including a six-fer in the second innings.
“Somebody who played a very significant role for me until I got to the IPL, Sunil Subramanian, was there for the Test match. I had called him over. I think my dad might have also come. Lachchu bhai [VVS Laxman] handed me the cap. That is one Test match where Prithi wasn’t there. I will officially be a hundred at Dharamsala; she will be 99,” said Ashwin.
“I remember Sachin paaji at mid-off, trying to help me out. MS was, as usual, very confident. For some reason, videos from the game have cropped up on YouTube recently. I saw the nine wickets again. Three and six.”
Talking about getting his first Test wicket, dismissing Darren Bravo, Ashwin felt that it was a “run of the mill”.
“It was not a big deal. He went back to cut and the ball went on and he was bowled,” he added.
Ashwin said that playing the 100th Test does not mean as much to him as it means to his parents and his wife. He also said that he is really happy to be the first-ever player from Tamil Nadu to have played a century of Tests for India, though it is “just another number” for him.
“It does not mean as much as it means to my dad and my mum. Or my wife. Yes, I am very good with numbers but there is a difference between remembering numbers and that actually meaning something great for you. This will be like, “I have ticked another box.” There have been several times that I have thought about whether 100 Tests mean anything at all. Zak [Zaheer Khan] did not play a hundred. MS [Dhoni] did not. Adam Gilchrist did not. It is just another number,” said Ashwin.
“But the one thing that has really motivated me is the fact that I am the first from my part of the country to play a hundred Tests. In Tamil Nadu, we love the game. We talk about it a lot, we play the game a lot, we completely enjoy it. There is a great system, and there is some phenomenal talent, but as cricketers, we do not understand and embrace what happens in the rest of the country…
“The cricketing culture is vastly different. The pressures are very different. The breathing space our well-run system gives us does not exist at international level. We do well in club cricket, we get into the first-class team, our state association looks after us better than many, and if we fail, we can still go back to club cricket and sustain ourselves and try to come back into the first-class team. We do not really push our boundaries…
“When we get into the Indian team, or an IPL team, we are not always prepared for a scenario which we will get only one or two chances to prove ourselves. That is the pressure I have played with for long durations in my career…
“I think my going on to represent India in a hundred Tests really means something in that regard. I would not say I am a motivation for others. I might well be, but that is not what I set out to do. It is the experience of having played a hundred Tests and having experienced this wonderful country and the cricket community of this wonderful country that I can share with cricketers, and probably help more cricketers from my part of the country to come through,” Ashwin said.
The all-rounder said that Test cricket is taxing and one has to put 10 days into a Test match, including practice sessions, meetings.
“Really taxing. Let us say you play a hundred Tests. Even if you account for shorter Tests, you still end up playing at least 400 days. That is on the field. Preparation for three days, with meetings and one hard practice and one relaxed practice before the game. That is 300 days added to 400. And then you travel, you have pre-series camps, you prepare on your own before joining the team. So it is literally like you have to put ten days into a Test match,” said Ashwin.
“And depending on how your mood swings or how you play, and what your day was like, where the Test match is standing, you cannot switch off. Even for your family travelling, it has to be the hardest life. I know it seems unbelievably beautiful from the outside that you are travelling to England, you are travelling to Australia. You know, the first time I saw the London Eye was with my daughter when we went there last time? If one fine day Prithi says, “I want to go on holiday” and I say, “You just came back from England,” she will be like, “I was on work. I was on work with you…
“You are pretty much locked away inside a hotel room. And you are worried if you had a bad day, or the Test match is not going your way, or you lost the Test match, you do not feel like going for dinner. You do not want to be seen. You want to be in your bunker…
“And that is doubly hard when you are in India. I am very grateful because, without those sorts of fans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And the Indian team wouldn’t be as popular as it is today. But it takes a toll on the family and your personal life. And if you are playing Test cricket and you are playing for India – you can play T20, you can play ODIs, I have done all of those – there is nothing close to playing a Test match for your country…
“And it is a proper test. It is pressure, it is skills, it is adaptability, it is physical fitness, it is bouncebackability, resolve over skill sometimes. And you need to be able to deploy every single one of these attributes. You have to put everything together. And that’s the beauty of it. At the end of a Test match, if you have had a great Test match and you have won a hard-fought Test match, I don’t think there is any better feeling. You can actually be high on a Test match. That’s how good it is,” he said.
On what does future has in store for him, Ashwin said, “Do not know, man. I have not thought about it. This hundred Tests mean more to my family than it does to me. So whatever is remaining, I will do according to what they say. I do not think I’ll make decisions anymore.”
India and England will lock horns in the fifth and final Test of the series in Dharamshala from Thursday. India has won the series 3-1, handing England their first series loss under the leadership of Stokes and coach McCullum. At this point, England will be playing for their pride.
Both sides still have World Test Championship points to gain in Dharamsala, even though the series has been decided. India are on top of the World Test Championship standings while England is eighth on the points table. Winning the match will earn a side 12 crucial points while a draw will earn them four points. (ANI)

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