He has been a part of teams that have won the World Cup, the Champions Trophy and the IPL. But for R. Ashwin, the Ranji Trophy title has remained elusive.
The India off-spinner has been vocal in recent times about the need for things to change if Tamil Nadu cricket is to improve. During the lockdown, Ashwin has dedicated a new YouTube show to picking the brains of First Class stalwarts on what it takes to win the Ranji.
First Class matters
“Every young cricketer wants to play the IPL and for the country, but not many realise how important First Class cricket is. I wanted to showcase achievers in First Class cricket and explain how crucial it is,” said Ashwin on what drove him to start the show.
The programme has seen the likes of Amol Muzumdar, Wasim Jaffer, S. Ramesh and W.V. Raman, with episodes featuring Parthiv Patel, S. Badrinath and L. Sivaramakrishnan in the pipeline.
Speaking about his dream of winning the Ranji Trophy, Ashwin said, “For the last few years we have not done well. The time off allows us to take stock of the situation and start preparing long-term. Cricketers need to take this opportunity to introspect and find a way to better themselves.”
An exceptional individual talent — 2016’s ICC Cricketer of the Year — Ashwin highlighted the importance of the collective. “Individual brilliance alone can’t help you move up the ladder,” he said. “We need to do well as a team and be in the knockouts regularly.”
Tamil Nadu recently secured the services of Kerala’s Sandeep Warrier to bolster its pace bowling, an area of perennial weakness. Ashwin backed the decision and said such a move provides local talent a benchmark to measure themselves against and also helps guard against complacency.
“Our league structure needs a rethink because we can’t produce fast bowlers on dead pitches,” he said. “We need better wickets and have to come up with new solutions. Maybe we can have a points incentive for bowling out teams and for wickets taken by pacers.
“Then you will automatically see livelier wickets and our batsmen will also get better at playing fast bowling. Good bounce helps spinners as well. You can’t do well in Ranji Trophy if you can’t play fast bowling.”
On the work needed at the grassroots, Ashwin cited Parthiv Patel’s anecdote on Gujarat sending its Ranji-winning coach back to under-19 cricket to ensure that the assembly line stayed healthy.
Tamil Nadu’s two Ranji Trophy titles came 33 years apart — in 1954-55 as Madras and in 1987-88. So will another 33-year wait end in 2020-21? Identifying the issues and incorporating the knowledge of those who have done it are certainly the first steps towards that goal.