Ashwin welcomes use of Kookaburra Turf balls
On the face of it, there is plenty of spice that has been lent to the ongoing Vijay Hazare Trophy with the presence of a number of India internationals like MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and R Ashwin in the mix. Apart from the format which has been changed from the zonal system to four random groups picked through a draw, giving even the unfancied sides an opportunity to brush shoulders with the best, another talking point has been the use of the Kookaburra Turf ball, which is used in ODIs and T20s, instead of the Kookabura Regulation ball that is generally used in grade cricket.
While the regulation ball has a more pronounced seam that can sometimes make even part-time medium pacers look threatening, the flip side has been the fact that the ball gets very soft as the game progresses. In comparison, the turf ball settles down to allow a better balance between bat and ball. Taking the argument a step further, Ashwin, who is leading Tamil Nadu in the domestic 50-over competition where the ball change has been effected for the first time, felt the Kookaburra ensured a level-playing field.
"The fact that we are using the Kookaburra Turf ball is welcome because it is a far better option in these conditions than the Kookaburra Regulation ball," Ashwin explained. "Some kind of balance has been restored, one can say, and for us to play with this ball before we play in Australia means we are using the same ball in a match environment too."
Ball apart, the early-morning starts have given the tournament a predictable feel, with captains having no hesitation in sending the opposition in. While the chasing team has come out trumps most times, Ashwin, who lauded the quality of cricket, said there was a case of either pushing back the start time to take the toss out of the equation or tweak the format slightly to ensure the team batting first was not at a disadvantage even before a ball was bowled.
"One of the most standout features of the league phase was the quality of the cricket, which was fairly high. Having said that, because of the 9.00 am starts, there wasn't too much planning that could go into the matches," Ashwin explained. "It was a simple strategy of winning the toss and putting the opposition in because it was far easier batting second. Apart from a few games where the teams made big runs, totals were generally in the range of 230-240, which took some of the sheen off the competition.
"These are not the kind of totals you get in international cricket. I suppose we have two options in front of us. Either we have a slightly later start, or the teams bat 10 overs each at the start of the day and then the team that batted first plays out its remaining 40 overs. But if this is how it is, then as players we are fine with that too."
Format and tweaks apart, Ashwin also delved into his role as captain and the challenges he faced in order to bring the best out of a young team on an upward curve. "One of the things I felt was required was to have ideas as a bowling unit," he said. "As captain, I am trying to put systems in place, trying to show the way towards excellence. Along the way, I am ticking a few boxes personally as well.
"I am trying to bowl in pressure situations, at the death, or I am batting either when we need to get a move on or when we have lost early wickets and we need to grind our way out of trouble. It might sound clichéd, but we want to play fearless cricket. We want to go out and express ourselves. Most of all, we want to inflict some serious scars on some good teams, and we want to last the distance."