R Ashwin has mounted a strong defence of MS Dhoni's leadership saying he would "die on the field" if his captain asked him to. A 2-0 loss to Bangladesh had sharpened the spotlight on Dhoni, who brushed aside the criticism of his captaincy but sarcastically quipped that if he was the source of everything that was wrong with Indian cricket, he would gladly step aside.
When asked for his thoughts on the issue, a visibly irked Ashwin said: "He is one of the star cricketers, man, he is a legend of Indian cricket. He has done so much for the nation. We can't really forget what he has done.
"Yes I know bad results crop and all kinds of statistics crop up. With statistics you can prove whatever you want as you please. You have to give credit to the individual because he has done a lot of good things. You can't blame him for the whole team's performance. That's not fair. I would say we have failed as a unit, failed as a group.
"Of course, man, if you don't go behind your leader (now) then when will you? So as far as I am concerned it's like an army, if you don't go behind your leader then you are definitely going to get shot. If my captain asks me to die on the field, I'll do it. It's not just now, any captain you have to go behind him. If he asks you to die on the field, then you have to be prepared to do it."
Amid the scrutiny levelled on the team regarding the manner of their defeats, there has been plenty of interest in and calls for change. Ashwin tempered them by pointing out that India had done quite well across the entire season.
"Everybody's good enough. It's not like we are looking to pick on anybody in or outside the team like people would like us to do. Really a win is what we would like to achieve. It's the end of the season for us so if we can cap it off with a win, it would be good. We have had a good season to be honest, we have won more than 75% of the games in the last season and that's what we are looking to continue."
That win-loss ratio, Ashwin said, has been a point of solace that has kept the atmosphere within the team reasonably stable despite being found out by Bangladesh.
"We have definitely come up against a wall wherein a team really knows what they are doing. I think we should be honest in admitting the fact that we haven't played very flamboyant cricket, and we have not come out of our shell. But as a whole, the dressing room atmosphere hasn't been anything short of anything it has been in the past. I think we are used to the fact that we do lose a few, but we win more, which has kept us in good stead. But going into this game, we've really got to free the birds up and try and play as positively as we can."
Considering India have been quite generous in their praise of Bangladesh when asked to explain their own faults, there was again inspiration to be taken from the opposition.
"Bangladesh weren't winning a lot of games in the last few years, but they tried to maintain momentum, and then started getting better and winning games. So ideally losing is not the end of it," Ashwin said. "At this point of time it's a very hard game for us. We are trying to come back in a lost series. That's the way things go, you can't throw in the towel or run away from the fact that there is a game to go. That's how it is.
"We've had a quiet couple of days and I think everybody has reflected on what's happened and we all know what needs to be done. The mood's got a little better now."
On a personal note, Ashwin has had a fine tour with the ball. Besides his tenth Test five-for, he's taken four wickets in two ODIs and has looked India's only bowler of any threat. The fast bowlers, especially, have been toothless. But according to Ashwin, all is not quite as it seems on the surface.
"It's very easy to analyse a loss and say somebody has not done well," he said. "Statistics do that and it can be used any which way. I won't say we haven't bowled well. There have been others who have bowled well, and probably the way they have bowled has enhanced my chances of taking wickets.
"The bowlers have only 10 wickets to take but 10 overs to give runs and face the brunt of what the media has to say. Both bowling and batting are equally tough. As a bowler, you don't have the numbers a batsman has. You can only pick up two or three wickets normally. The roles are very important and very definite. Somebody can bowl 10 overs for 25 runs without taking a wicket but that could be the match defining spell. But you won't hear the media talking about it."
The ODI series has seen a certain amount of on-field hostility, with send-offs, a collision, and run-out attempts off dead balls, all tied together neatly by an incredibly boisterous Mirpur crowd. But Ashwin has played down all talk of revenge.
"You don't go into a game thinking, 'They beat me, now we are really angry and we want to smash them.' That's not how it works. Its international cricket, they have done their bit. They had their own biding time and now they're on the rise. So it's very important to respect the opponents. You can't go back and say that this is like an insult. It's not. A good side has beaten us and we have to admit that."