The last time India played a home ODI World Cup match at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, it was in 2011 against the West Indies, which is best remembered for Yuvraj Singh slamming 113 and picking 2-13 in the hosts’ 80-run victory.
There was an element of homecoming in that game when a young Ravichandran Ashwin took 2-41 in his ten overs at Chepauk. Cut to now, and 12 years later, a grand homecoming awaits veteran off-spinner Ashwin when India take on Australia in their 2023 World Cup opening match on Sunday afternoon, as Chennai is back to hosting a global tournament game featuring the hosts’.
In a way, Chennai and Ashwin have an inseparable bond, right from the time the off-spinner, hailing from West Mambalam region in the city, rose through the ranks in his quest to make it to the Indian team.
That quest took him to playing at Chepauk and various cricket grounds in the city, irrespective of the matches being international, IPL, domestic or TNCA league games. Ashwin eventually established himself as one of the greats of the game via international and IPL games, including a Player of the Match performance in the 2021 Test against England, where he smashed a century and took eight wickets.
In the current Indian team, Ashwin is the only person who can be termed as a walking encyclopedia for knowing all things about the MA Chidambaram Stadium – right from direction and speed of the wind to the amount of turn, grip and bounce off the pitch and the boundary sizes, trust him to use his relentless and busy bee-like brain in helping the hosts’ get a winning start to the tournament on Sunday.
“India has a very good revolutionary spinner in the form of Ravichandran Ashwin. He will impart those revolutions on the ball and knows what is happening. He has bowled quite a few times against Australia and he will be very useful in power-play number two. With four fielders outside, he will bowl with his guile and ability to contain the Australian batters,” said spin-bowling legend VV Kumar to IANS.
With captain Rohit Sharma hinting over India possibly fielding three spinners in Sunday’s game, it means Ashwin is likely to play in his home match. Kumar, who took five wickets on debut against Pakistan in 1961 Test in New Delhi, with his second and last Test appearance coming in the same year, feels Ashwin can turn out to be a useful pick for India at Chepauk.
“Both teams have little bit doubts on their middle-order, and so Ashwin will be very useful if the captain decides as they have bowled previously against Australian batters. Ashwin may turn the ball a little more and bowl his normal stuff to be of some use to the Indian team at Chepauk,” he added.
Six years ago, Ashwin was out of India’s ODI scheme of things, as he and Ravindra Jadeja were unable to give India wickets in the middle-overs. While Jadeja returned to the ODI side via 2018 Asia Cup, it took Ashwin time till January 2022 to be back in ODI colours in South Africa.
After playing those three games, Ashwin was again out of ODI team till a left quadriceps injury to Axar Patel got him sensationally back into the team for the series against Australia last month. He warmed up for it by playing for Mylapore Recreational Club A in a 50-over match against Young Stars Cricket Club at SSN ground in the TNCA VAP Trophy.
In Indore, Ashwin rattled Australian batters with his spell of 3-41 in seven overs, where he showcased his full repertoire of carrom ball, arm-ball and even the reverse carrom ball. David Warner switched his stance to bat right-handed while facing Ashwin, a decision which initially invoked laughs that backfired as he fell to the off-spinner yet again in international cricket.
“These sort of gimmicks will not work in this match. Yes, it gives some comedy on the field and won’t deny that. But Ashwin would be least bothered about it. He has bowled to a lot of batters, who have tried all sorts of shots against him, but have eventually got out to Ashwin.”
“I think Warner could get out to Ashwin again as he’s taken him out a lot of times and bowling to left-handed batters is something Ashwin relishes the most because he knows how to get them out and how to tease them out (of the crease) also,” added Kumar.
In that game again, Ashwin got a carrom ball to move in reverse and crash into Labuschagne’s off-stump when the batter played for an off-break. Josh Inglis tried to sweep against him, but was trapped lbw as Ashwin was back to rattling Australia.
“I have known Ashwin right from his school days. He’s a bowler who thinks too much; it is a problem with him. But given the circumstances, weather and nature of the wicket, I am very, very confident that he will do the needful for India to beat Australia. It will be a great moment for me to see Ashwin in action and in full flow in today’s match at Chepauk,” added Kumar.
When Ashwin was drafted into India’s 15-member squad for the ODI World Cup on September 28, his IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals posted an edited version of protagonist Vijay’s introduction scene from his movie, Master, whose song ‘Vaathi Coming’ became a sensational song.
In that scene, Vijay’s character ‘JD’ is running after a moving bus and gets on it at the last minute. But in the clip posted by the franchise on Instagram, Ashwin’s face is put over the face of the protagonist, summing up his whirlwind entry into India’s ODI World Cup squad.
This time, another Vijay flick – Leo – is gearing up for release during the World Cup period on October 19. One of its songs – Naa ready – has a line going as, ‘Naa ready thaan varava.. Annan na erangi varava’ (I am fully prepared and ready to come.. brother, I will come running).
When Ashwin steps on the field and bowls in Sunday’s clash, expect the crowd to go berserk as he displays his awe-inspiring skills at Chepauk on his grand homecoming in India’s World Cup opener.