KXIP bought R Ashwin for Rs 7.6 crore at the auction and now they have handed the captaincy to the senior off-spinner for the upcoming season.
In a parallel world, R Ashwin would have been a Chennai Super Kings (CSK) player for the 2018 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), while Harbhajan Singh would be plying his trade for Kings XI Punjab (KXIP). Reality, however, is that KXIP bought Ashwin for Rs 7.6 crore at the auction and now they have handed the captaincy to the senior off-spinner for the upcoming season. Singh, a rS 2-crore buy for CSK, meanwhile, would be playing under MS Dhoni.
Conspiracy theorists usually produce hypotheses that contradict facts and/or logic. Grapevine had it that CSK didn’t retain or use the Right to Match (RTM) option for Ashwin because he left India Cements and joined a direct rival in the Chennai league: Chemplast. To start with, India Cements no longer owns the IPL franchise, as the CSK ownership has been vested to a wholly-owned subsidiary—Chennai Super Kings Cricket Ltd. Secondly, the whole issue, Ashwin’s switch, is long done and dusted and no one at India Cements holds a grudge against the player.
A CSK official gave the lowdown on how things panned out at the auction. “The discussion that we had with all the support staff and Dhoni, it was clearly mentioned to go for Ashwin. If you go back to the auction, we had gone for him first, up to a price that was possible. See, Kings XI wanted to make him the captain, so they kept on going for him up to Rs 7 crore. We had already retained three players (Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja), so we couldn’t go for that kind of money,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
For KXIP, their captaincy choice was restricted between Ashwin, Yuvraj Singh and David Miller. Yuvraj is now past his sell-by date as an international cricketer. Appointing him as the skipper would have been a step backwards. As for Miller, the IPL franchises are usually a tad reluctant to bestow the responsibility to an overseas player—communication could be a factor—unless they have a heavyweight like Steve Smith or David Warner, for example, onboard.
The bottomline is that for Ashwin and KXIP, it’s sort of a win-win situation, as both parties can benefit from the arrangement. Ashwin’s pedigree as a cricketer ensures he will get the respect of the dressing-room. And he will now be walking with an added spring in his step, the trickle-down effect of which should help his bowling and, in turn, the whole team.
Ashwin is out of the Indian limited-overs set-up at the moment. With the 2019 World Cup being the Holy Grail, he needs a strong IPL to come back into the reckoning. At CSK, there was no guarantee that Ashwin would have been the first-choice spinner ahead of Jadeja, as the latter has always enjoyed Dhoni’s backing for keeping things simple, bowling-wise.
As KXIP captain, Ashwin would be the first name on the team sheet. He will get some extra leeway to work on his new variations. With wrist-spin being the latest fad in Indian cricket—courtesy Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal—Ashwin is said to be keen on trying his hand at leg-spin also in the IPL.
Ashwin is a thinking cricketer, although there’s a school of thought that at times he is prone to thinking a little too much, making things complicated in the process.
At the same time, Ashwin can be innovative, as confirmed by his Tamil Nadu Ranji teammate Abhinav Mukund. “He (Ashwin) has different ideas. He won’t be an orthodox captain. He led Tamil Nadu in the Vijay Hazare Trophy one year and he set quite unorthodox fields. He’s always maintained books and notes on players,” the opener had said during a recent conversation with The Indian Express.
The KXIP captaincy would be a great challenge for the 31-year-old and he has promised to make things exciting.
PS: Harbhajan Singh still aspires to play for India, and his old franchise Mumbai Indians not retaining him could be an added motivation for the veteran off-spinner. From fans’ point of view, two senior pros turning up for their respective new franchises and having a healthy rivalry with an eye to a Team India recall provides extra spice.