R Ashwin was the International Cricket Council’s Cricketer of the Year in 2016, but featured in only two of India’s 13 One-Day Internationals in the entire calendar year. The demands of a heavy Test schedule meant that he was rested for India’s tour of Zimbabwe and the home series against New Zealand.
Now, with India kick-starting preparations for their Champions Trophy defence, to be played in England in June 2017, Ashwin is back in the mix for the limited-overs series’ against England. When he takes the field in Pune on January 15, it will be his first ODI in exactly a year, the last one having come against Australia in Brisbane on the same day in 2016.
He was, however, confident of doing well against England and carrying the momentum built up through the Test series.
“It’s more of a mental switch. We played a couple of T20Is in America (against West Indies). I thought I switched pretty well for that. I am sure it is going to be a challenge. The next three-four days will be very, very important (in terms of practice sessions),” Ashwin said at a press conference in Pune on Wednesday (January 11). “I tried to tick as many boxes as possible when I practiced in Chennai, but there’s nothing like game-time. It’s almost like getting back in two different formats and trying and feeling yourself.”
Ashwin took a total of 72 wickets in 12 Tests at 23.90 in 2016. He said that the performance with the red ball would give him confidence to do well in white-ball cricket.
“I don’t think it’s excess baggage. It is good baggage I would reckon. It’s a good year. It’s done and dusted as far as I am concerned. You cannot rest on your laurels a lot. The game doesn’t give you that much time these days,” he said. “It is very, very important to dust it up and make a fresh start. As far as I am concerned 2017 is a fresh year and I am going to start fresh and get a good start.
“It’s basically for my good form that I take confidence into the series, but it is different playing white-ball cricket as you don’t have enough time. The white ball also doesn’t do enough either off the wicket or in the air. It’s a lot in favour for the batter,” he added. “But you need to come to terms with that and try and make sure you are one step ahead of the game. That one good over, or blocking those five to six runs, or picking up that vital wicket at a crucial juncture is going to be important. It is about reading the game and staying ahead.”
Ashwin is one of many players who are returning to the Indian squad, with the team management keen to get the combination right before the Champions Trophy. The offspinner felt that India would be tested well by England, who have been on the rise in the limited-overs cricket in the recent past.
“We are playing a full strength Indian side after a long time. I don’t remember when we last played a full strength side. We also have Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh) back in the side (after three years) and that’s going to add to the experience,” he said. “This English side has played some cracker of one-day tournaments. In the last year or so, they have made some mammoth scores in England also. They are a side that will always look to be positive.”
This will India’s first limited-overs series after Mahendra Singh Dhoni quit the white-ball captaincy, with Virat Kohli taking over as the captain across all formats, and Ashwin said that there would be a difference in the way he would communicate with the new leader.
“It will be different because of the interactions you will have. Before, when I used to play my communication with Mahi, which won’t happen from this game onwards, was from the top of my mark through to the wicketkeeper,” he added. “Obviously Virat will be at short midwicket or short cover, but it is going to be different. It is about getting used to those sorts of communications. Virat, at times, can be aggressive. That is one thing I need to try and get adjusted to. Obviously those extra runs to try and get a wicket is not such a bad thing.”
However, Ashwin was clear that while the mode of communication with Dhoni could change, as a wicketkeeper, the former skipper would continue to be vital.
“That seems like a good headline, isn’t it,” he said, responding to a journalist’s query of how different would it be when communicating with Dhoni on the field from now on. “I have just played one whole ODI series under (Kohli) against Sri Lanka. He likes attacking and picking up wickets through the middle overs at the cost of some runs. In terms of leadership and communication, Mahi is still going to hold the key because he is the ‘keeper and will bring in invaluable experience with him. It will be very, very important for us to take as much valuable inputs from him and take the team forward.”
Date replaces Basu
Anand Date has replaced Shankar Basu as India’s strength and conditioning trainer for the limited-overs series against England, and the one-off Test against Bangladesh in Hyderabad. The series against England starts on January 15, while the Test against Bangladesh is scheduled from February 8 to 12. Basu, who has been openly credited by several Indian cricketers, including Kohli, for improving their fitness standards, had asked for a break due to “personal reasons” as per a BCCI statement. Date, who worked with India A recently, has thus been called up.