It was during the first Test against South Africa that we got to know Ravichandran Ashwin had been picked in a quartet to be considered for the International Cricket Council’s player-of-the-year prize.
Whether or not he is picked, lots of high-visibility people trundle away without any possibility of the honour ever coming their way, and the nomination, quite obviously, is meant to reward consistency. You have to do some solid work to land it. But that would have made you wonder how Ashwin got to be among the chosen few after being pushed out of the Tests in England, with one match held over. He had simply been erased out of the frame.
The one selection plan Virat Kohli had seemed to be tethered to on the tour was the exclusion of Ashwin from India’s eleven, saying Ravindra Jadeja, the left-arm spinner, was indispensable because of his batting. Kohli was impervious to criticism: the more we poked fun at him, the harder became his resolve to leave the off-spinner out of the action. And you can’t really do anything if your captain is getting it wrong at the expense of the team, other than suffer in diplomatic silence. And Kohli reigned supreme then. Though not at his best with the bat, in that centuries hadn’t been flowing forth as regularly as ads on the telly, he was the monarch of all he surveyed.
The board proposed, he disposed. So, discretion had to be the better part of valour where Ashwin was concerned. But pent-up emotions found an outlet all right, eventually. Leaving England hastily, and extremely controversially, the boys headed for West Asia for the 2021 Indian Premier League and then, the Twenty20 World Cup. A routine to be gone through and a stiff test to prove their collective worth. India, under Kohli, failed rather badly.
Back home, they walloped New Zealand in T20Is and Tests and got ready to fly out to South Africa. Tumult preceded a fresh start when a lot of the equations changed dramatically. Status quo was limited to Kohli’s own form, though, his groping in the corridor of uncertainty outside off stump, ugly slashes and flashes ending in edges for the wicketkeeper or the slips inspiring the papers’ documentary duty with infographic skills. The Centurion Test it has been where Kohli’s batting has been hauled over the coals like seldom before. “Elegance personified” is not how caption writers see it when he plays far away from his body, head not quite down.
It’s a twin transformation within a single narrative, the sort we knew happened only in stories and films. To that extent, it’s life imitating art, but we, of course, are quite some way off the last sentence in the story. As of now, Ashwin eyes the summit and Kohli struggles to re-establish himself, even if India, by winning the first Test, have favoured him with a certain peace of mind. We play so many roles in one lifetime, after all.