Ravichandran Ashwin has pinpointed one precise and perhaps surprising moment that he believes to be the turning point on India’s path to the ICC World Test Championship Final.
India spinner Ashwin is a man of many words when he’s in the mood, and the 36-year-old was on top form when he spoke to the ICC ahead of the upcoming clash with Australia.
Entertaining and erudite, Ashwin discussed a whole host of topics, revealing one particular behind-the-scenes moment that he holds as a personal highlight in the past two years of Test cricket.
“We’ve had our moments in this last cycle, especially where we could have been knocked out quite a few times and have just held tight,” the top-ranked Test bowler said.
“I think the moment of the WTC, I don’t know irrespective of what happens in this game, would be Rahul (Dravid) bhai’s speech after the Bangladesh Test that we had at Mirpur.
“I think we were just going to be knocked out of the WTC race in that particular Test, so we finished the game and I came out and was really pumped up, I don’t think we expected... nobody expected us to win, even inside the dressing room.
“Rahul just said, ‘It was a great game of cricket and Ash, we were never in doubt’.
"That is probably the moment of the WTC cycle as far as I’m concerned.”
Ashwin had come to the crease with India in deep trouble in the second Test in December 2022, struggling on 74/7 and still requiring 71 runs to win.
But with Shreyas Iyer holding the fort at one end with a defiant 29* from 46 balls, Ashwin steered India to victory with an unbeaten 42* from 62 balls, pulling the winning runs to the boundary to spark jubilant scenes and rejuvenate his team’s WTC campaign.
“Like he said, we were never in doubt, even though we went through the ride," Ashwin said.
“I think in the last cycle we really quite dominated and got into the Final. This time we’ve had our ups and downs, and that’s probably why I think this particular game could be lucky number two for us.”
The World Test Championship is in relative infancy, with the tournament just four years into its lifespan after almost two full cycles.
The players and coaches are beginning to get used to the ebb and flow of the event, noticing patterns of when the WTC is front and centre of a team’s targets.
“It’s probably somewhere at the back of your mind when you start the cycle, and it starts becoming front and centre when you get to the pointy end,” India coach Dravid said at The Oval two days out from the start of the WTC Final.
“When you get to the last few games of a series you can see the conversations around - 'okay, what do we need to be able to qualify?' 'Where are the other teams?'”
Inspired by Ashwin and with Dravid’s positive words ringing in the ears, India departed Bangladesh as 2-0 series winners to put them right back in control of their WTC fate.
They now have an opportunity to right the wrongs of 2021, when they succumbed to New Zealand at an wet and wild Southampton in the first-ever edition of the WTC Final.
Ashwin expects India to be better prepared this time after their experiences in 2021.
“England will be cold! That’s the one learning from that game - it was cold, it was freezing,” Ashwin laughed in his interview with Sanjana Ganesan for the ICC.
“But I don’t think you can draw back, I mean you can’t even draw back into the last series that you played, and that is way back in the pecking order as far as we’re concerned in terms of how long ago the game was played.
“We played a Test series against England post that. We came back and finished a fifth Test against them at Edgbaston. So we’ve had a bit of experience here in England, like Australia would have done through the Ashes. I think we know what to expect."
“The Oval is one place that is probably a little different to some of the other tougher venues in England in terms of lateral movement," Ashwin said.
"So I think we’ve prepared okay. I’m sure there are nerves on both sides, so the team who are going to capitalise on the early nerves of the other is going to come out on top.”
Whether Ashwin will be among the XI that looks to capitalise on any Australian nerves remains to be seen, with one of the big selection decisions set to be whether to include an additional seamer or go with a twin spin attack of Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
With The Oval pitch traditionally less favourable to swing than some English grounds, and with its tendency to turn on the fourth and fifth days – albeit most often when Tests are played at the end of the English summer – Ashwin will be hopeful of getting a chance to follow up his fine form behind the microphone with a similarly supreme performance out in the middle.