This has been a strange sort of season for Ravichandran Ashwin who will be playing his 6th match of the Indian Premier League 2022 today. His wicket column has just a single entry and it is not in sync with his phenomenal wicket-taking benchmark he has set in red-ball cricket. However, the Rajasthan Royals’ bowler can take some consolation from the fact that he is one of the most economical bowlers in this tournament and also has played some significant part in the smooth campaign of his team thus far. And yet, for the last one week or so, Ashwin has not been in the news for his cricketing skills but more for his cricketing thoughts.
While it is easy to mock his historic ‘retired out’ move as something taken out from gully cricket to international cricket, there is almost a sense of unanimity among the cricketers that if anyone who could have dared to do the pioneering act in T20 format, Ashwin was the inevitable choice. By this one gesture, Ashwin may have just managed to destigmatise the new rule. “He just seems to be that guy. He was happy to sort of push the Mankad rule to the limit. Now, it’s been changed and now he’s the first one to retire. RR always trying to question the status quo, in a way. That night, they definitely did, and Ashwin was the one to put his hand up,” said former Australian all-rounder Shane Watson on The Grade Cricketer podcast recently. The former India all-rounder Irfan Pathan too had hailed Ashwin’s move by saying that it wasn’t entirely unsurprising that the ‘retire out’ move first came from his former team-mate.
Those who have followed Ashwin’s cricket closely are perhaps now familiar with a distinguish characteristic of his personality. That he is an outlier in many aspects. A rare species particularly in Indian cricket where conformity from the grassroot to international cricket is so prevalent. However, it is not only in the cricket field that Ashwin is someone who has who has challenged the established norms and is quite unconventional – right from trying countless variations all the time, at times even trying his hand at leg-spin and such – and his general outlook towards cricket being different from any regular cricketer.
Earlier, it was the same Ashwin who successfully managed to remove the stigma against running out the non-strikers despite facing overwhelming criticism in the name of ‘spirit of cricket’. In past, Ashwin has proved by his actions that he doesn’t care much about the Anglo-Australian evaluation system despite its overwhelming dominance in cricket world. In that sense, he has always been an odd man or brave man (depending on your perception) in Indian cricket who is willing to take an unusual stand on many grey areas of the game. And, his fearless attitude is not just restricted to the filed but goes beyond cricket. How many cricketers can publicly take a stand against some of the judgements of the Supreme Court or at times having a politically-not-so-correct stance on his social media platforms.
A lot of critics have also pointed out that Ashwin could afford to pioneer something like the Retired Out in the IPL because he is not considered a threatening batter. But isn’t that assessment being unfair on someone who has five Test hundred under his belt? This move has been in cricketing discussion ever since Yuvraj Singh horribly struggled while batting against Sri Lanka in 2014 T20 World Cup final in Bangladesh. To witness such radical ideas into practice, one needs the dare devilry of Ashwin which is well-thought in advance.
Ashwin’s out-of-box thinking is not something which has been easily accepted by different captains and coaches throughout his. Forget being encouraged or rewarded richly for his innovative methods. Rather, his opinions in Indian dressing rooms have been perceived as too frank or sometimes even bordering on disrespect for the authority (read captains). And it is not surprising because the culture of ‘yes boss’ prevails in every walk of Indian life. Not only Virat Kohli who has had reservations with Ashwin’s ‘revolutionary ideas’ in the dressing room but his predecessor MS Dhoni too at times wasn’t enamoured by ‘excessive analytical mindset’ of his match-winning spinner. The fact that Chennai Super Kings didn’t chose to retain Ashwin after nearly a decade’s association and even ignoring his local Chennai connect and leadership potential, may have something to do with Ashwin’s own way of doing things.
With over 550 international wickets, Ashwin is a modern legend of Indian cricket but his true assessment as a cricketer must also take account of the fact that he is also an outlier and that is an outstanding quality in Indian cricket where too much emphasis is on tradition and rote methods of learning. That’s Ashwin keeps challenging the powers-that-be with his seemingly unconventional methods should be appreciated and acknowledged because very few could have thought that the non-striker run-out method or retire out would become normal in cricket vocabulary.