Over the last 12 months, Ravichandran Ashwin has bowled 589 overs for his national team and 79 overs for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK). He has played in 38 matches for India and 22 matches for CSK. In all, he has been on the field for 80 days. Add to this, the travel involved – In just this period, Ashwin has travelled to five of the nine other test playing nations and 17 different cities in India. I hope he’s signed up for every frequent flyer program out there.
Even in this day of cricket all the time, cricket everywhere, this is a phenomenal workload. Among international cricketers only Virat Kohli comes close to having endured the same level of travel and stress. But Kohli’s primary job is to bat (as evident from this over on 4/12/12 against Chennai). The stress on the body, while significant is not as harsh as that on a bowler. I just don’t think such a workload is healthy for any bowler, even a finger spinner. The unprecedented volume of cricket in three different formats and the travel schedules put enormous stress on the bowler’s body and mind.
I worry a lot about how India’s premier spinner is handling all this. Are training methods used by Ashwin with two/three different staffs consistent and relevant to the nature and frequency of cricket he is involved in? Is he capable of refining and reinventing his repertoire to keep batsmen guessing? Every Indian bowler who achieved significant international success in the last twenty years has faced up to shoulder injuries of some sort. Is it just a matter of time before Ashwin falls in to the same trap?
At certain stages in their careers Harbhajan Singh, Saqlain Mushtaq and Muttiah Muralitharan have faced similar workloads in terms of overs but never in terms of the number of games and associated travel. Two of those three succeeded in having long and successful careers constantly reinventing their bowling and staying on top of the opposition.
Ashwin is an immensely talented spinner. When he first arrived on the scene in IPL 2010 he displayed skill, courage and versatility in a very difficult format. I worry a lot about his short and long-term future. For his sake and for Indian cricket, I hope he gets an extended three-four month break from the game he loves. It would provide him with much-needed rest, quality time with his family and a chance to evaluate and refine his bowling.
Here’s hoping the protagonist and the people in charge pay heed to the burnout potential here and treat Ashwin with the proper care and assistance needed to ensure his continued success. With significant home challenges next winter against England and Australia, a well-rested and motivated Ashwin could be the difference between an India that wins at home and one that doesn’t.