'Ashwin is a thinking cricketer' - Dhoni
MS Dhoni has praised R Ashwin's evolution as a bowler, noting the numerous transitional hurdles Ashwin had to cross in his career. "He [Ashwin] is slightly different. He is a thinking cricketer," Dhoni said. "He thinks a lot about his bowling which is a positive. When he started, he started off really well and to some extent he slightly went down and that was the time when he was criticised a lot for his variations and everything.
"But you also have to realise that when you are new, not many people know about you. With the videos and everything, people tend to know more about you, gather more information about you, how you bowl, what your variations are."
Dhoni said the difficulties involved in adjusting to the workload of international cricket were often overlooked in analysing a player's career, adding that Ashwin's slump in form, back in 2013, was possibly a result of non-stop cricket. "One crucial thing we miss is when you are part of the domestic circuit you don't play throughout the year. And then when you become part of the Indian team you start playing 12 months of cricket.
"And for spinners, if you are playing all the formats, at times one of the reasons can be your fingers getting tired. I am not saying that is the reason. It could be the reason from playing four months or five months of cricket to all of a sudden you are playing 12 months of active cricket.
"We must also include the IPL where you keep playing more and more games. It was bound to happen, a transition phase was supposed to happen and I am glad he came out of it."
Dhoni said he had cautioned Ashwin that his variations would eventually become a convenient target when his form dipped. He spoke about his advice to Ashwin - typically layered with abstract numbers - and said Ashwin had helped cover up for his fast bowlers' failings on many occasions.
"I kept telling him that 'to me the only difference is, for example, if you are bowling all your variations in 2x4 area now you are bowling 4x6 ft area. That is the only thing lacking. Other than that, you don't have to worry about. It is bound to happen. Just focus on your bowling and you will be good.'
"He is not someone who has bowled after the 10 from 11th to 35th. I have used him in the first 10 and also from 40-45. He just makes my job slightly easy, especially for a consistent period of time when my fast bowlers have not done well. It is good to have him and I think he is a great asset to the side irrespective of the format."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo