R Ashwin is on his first trip to Australia. He has not bowled extraordinarily well but he hasn't disgraced himself either. Over a period of time he has looked the third-most comfortable India's batsman in this series behind Virat Kohli and Sachin Tendulkar. He is also the most abused India player on message boards and below-the-line comments on internet articles.
The simple reason is, Ashwin has been to more press conferences than any other India player through the series. Not counting the pre-series press conferences, in 12 days of Test cricket he has faced up to the media five times, only four fewer occasions than he has taken a wicket. This should not be mistaken as media's self-importance. Throughout the series this space has reported players' quotes as they are, without interpretations or embellishments. What the players say has been reported to the fans, and because Ashwin has been the most visible player on the platform, he has taken the most of the criticism from the fans.
The seniors have mostly stayed away from any interaction. It hasn't helped that a few of the other youngsters don't speak English and the media manager sent by the BCCI doesn't translate the Hindi quotes for the Australian press, which discourages the team from sending them out. Which has left us with Ashwin, who in his last press conference said that neither he nor any member of the side was embarrassed at the team's performance.
Today Ashwin sought to clarify what he said. "It would be nice if you could rephrase," Ashwin said. "'Embarrassed' is not the right word. Nobody has done any one thing faulty. We have not fooled or cheated anyone. 'We are extremely disappointed' is probably the words I can use. It is a sport.
"At the end of the day we have competed hard, it's not that we have chucked it away. We've given it everything we had. Yes we came down short on occasions, there were moments we could have seized, and it would have looked different. We have not seized the initiative, and there hasn't been enough in the bank to do it. Yes, we are extremely disappointed.
"We always felt that we should give something back to the fans, but if you keep thinking something is going to be faulty back home, you can't really do [the required] work here. It's like we are on work, and we have to concentrate on it."
It doesn't help either that Ashwin has been defensive in press conferences. Ask him why India go on the defensive as soon as they have been doing, and he questions your cricketing intelligence. Ask him about his inconsistent lines and lengths, and he says: "As a matter of fact, I bowled pretty well in Melbourne. There have been phases when I've bowled well. I wouldn't say that I didn't have much luck, but we always stumbled upon a roadblock where we get three wickets and don't get the fourth quickly enough to attack as a whole, and have gone into a break and not seized the initiative. There have been situations when it's happened like that.
"With due credit, their players, a couple of them actually, have used their feet very well. I have tried to adjust to that. In Australian conditions, with the Kookaburra ball, even if you deceive them in the flight, they can go through with their shots. This is the learning I've taken from the series, stuff I would work on when the guys are stepping out to me. But to be honest, the ball has really come out of my hands well."
Ashwin was asked why it was always he who answered the media most of the time. Media interaction is not mandatory in bilateral series after all. "If that is what required of me," Ashwin said, "if this is also a role I have to play as a cricketer, I definitely have to play it. If it is for the team, I am ready to take it [on]."
Like others, Ashwin made it a point to talk about the playing surfaces. "There might be different scenarios and different conditions when teams travel to different places," he said. "That's what we have seen over the last one year. I think teams are getting increasingly stronger at home and they do realise that they need to give their bowlers enough in the wicket to get something out of it. Definitely under the sweltering heat and [when there is] lack of bounce, we might fancy ourselves. But a team that wants to count itself at the top of the world has to perform all over. So no excuses."
Ashwin said the fans could expect a better show in the limited-overs leg of the tour. "Everything is going to be fresh," he said. "It is going to be a different ball game. The colour of the ball also changes. Hopefully we could change our luck as well.
"In situations like these we need to forget what has happened and get on with it. Like I said, the ball is going to change, the squad is going to change, people coming in with fresh energy will help, so [we have to] just keep being positively. And we have played some good one-day cricket, even though we lost in England. I think there are people that appreciate that once again things - dew, rain, everything - didn't go our way. I hope that doesn't happen here. I am sure it will not happen over a period of one month. Looking forward to playing good one-day cricket, and if we get on top we shouldn't let them [the opposition] back again."