R Ashwin: 'The 2010 IPL win started a miraculous 18-month run for me'

The offspinner looks back at the Chennai Super Kings' first IPL title victory

In 94 innings for the Chennai Super Kings from 2009 to 2015, R Ashwin took 90 wickets an an economy of 6.45  •  AFP

In 94 innings for the Chennai Super Kings from 2009 to 2015, R Ashwin took 90 wickets an an economy of 6.45  •  AFP

Being in an IPL final is always good because you are going through that entire grind. There are a lot of games and ups and downs through the tournament, and 2010 was when I made my mark.
I had been waiting in the wings for a good two years. I played two games in the 2009 IPL and did pretty well in the last game I played, but couldn't play the semi-final.
Then I got a start in the 2010 season but got left out after five games. When I came back, we were almost out of the tournament. From there on, I had a very impactful performance. It didn't look like we would qualify [for the semi-finals], but in Dharamsala we chased down over 190 against the Kings XI Punjab before we went to the final.
There weren't any clear strategies for the final. MS [Dhoni] doesn't discuss strategies elaborately. He likes to keep it really simple. He is one of those captains who plays the card in front of him, backs his players, and has his own set of plans for the particular day.
With regards to our score of 168, the difference then was the bats. We are talking of 11 years ago, when they were pretty good but still nowhere as good as what they are right now. The stadiums also weren't made as ridiculously small as they are now. And there was a certain amount of grass always.
Most of the tracks have changed since the IPL began. Most of the pitches [these days] play really well, making it difficult for the bowlers to restrict the batters. The bats are much harder now. But in 2010, and up to about 2012-13, it was a lot better for the bowlers than it is right now.
The DY Patil Stadium [where the final was played] and the CCI [Brabourne Stadium] were also slightly bigger. With that score, the kind of bowling form we were in, and the way we were striking in the powerplay - Doug Bollinger and I had a really good combination at the back half of that season - we almost closed the game out against Mumbai at that stage.
Yes, Kieron Pollard had that late blast, but I had bowled a maiden over [to Shikhar Dhawan] upfront and Dougie got an early wicket. Mumbai were sort of stuck at 30 or 40-odd at six runs an over and the [required] run rate shot up over ten. It was very difficult to imagine scoring over ten an over on those sort of surfaces with the bats of those days.
Also, though Sachin Tendulkar was in great form that season, I wasn't looking at who was in front of me but rather looking at the opportunity and relishing it. Only after the season was over did I look back and say, "Wow, that was good accomplishment", because I had come across some of the greatest batters and got on top of them on many occasions.
Previously, Sachin used a lot of his sweep shots and slog sweeps [against me], but in the final he made a very concerted effort of trying to hit me straight down the ground. And ever since 2010 till whenever paaji played, he never really hit me across the line. It gave me a lot of confidence seeing him take calculated risks against me.
When it came to our batsmen, a lot of them were worried about going after the bowling from ball one, but Suresh Raina wasn't, because he really blossomed under MS. He didn't have to think and wait for the 20th over - that was MS's role.
The immediate impact that I can remember is that almost zero legspinners or zero left-arm spinners could bowl at him; and if you were under 130 or 135 in pace, he would almost make mincemeat of you. He hit some extraordinary shots. One of the hallmarks of Suresh was the way he went over extra cover. It made the margin for error very small. A few catches were dropped by Mumbai, but he came out with a lovely knock.
What really worked for Suresh in my opinion is the freedom with which he played under MS. He knew that MS could always cover up towards the back end, so he didn't have to think about closing a game out. He was constantly looking to be the aggressor and take the challenge to the opposition. Whenever I saw him bat, I saw that sense of freedom. A total of 200 has almost become a par score in T20 cricket but to play with that freedom throughout an innings back then was something he set the trend for.
Suresh has also bowled a lot, so it was not a one-off when he dismissed Harbhajan [Singh] in the final. He was a more than handy bowler for the early part of his career. He even got Virat Kohli out lbw in the 2011 final. In fact, I remember that in his Under-19 days, he bowled six to seven overs consistently for the India U-19 side, so him bowling in the final was not a surprise at all.
MS used Suresh in almost every game. If someone's having a good day, MS backs him to do a lot more in that game. He might give that person the additional responsibility.
Later in the game [in the 18th over] when Pollard hit Bollinger for 22 in an over, nobody had really done that with such élan before. We knew that one or two overs can happen like that but the game cannot be closed out. Those were the virgin years of T20 cricket - it was unheard of to knock off 50 or 60 runs in three or three and a half overs. So when Pollard hit Bollinger, we knew that the game could still come back into our bag and we were quietly confident. The surface and the bats back then made the game a lot more controllable for the bowlers.
A lot of people acknowledged the fact that I was doing one of the hardest jobs. I had zero idea that I would go on to do the same thing for the next ten years - bowling in the powerplay as a spinner. But a lot of players - Albie [Morkel], Stephen Fleming [the coach], the trainer, and even Suresh - came up to me and said that it was an incredible tournament. What happened over the next 18 months was even more miraculous for me - the Champions League double [in 2010 and 2014], the 2011 IPL win, and the 2011 World Cup victory were a dream for me, starting from a really low point in 2010 when I got left out of the squad.
All I can say is that it really set up a very, very memorable career if I look back at it now.
The stability, in terms of the combination and the confidence one gives to the players, is what leads to an IPL title. In a lot of franchise cricket, people tend to get carried away with a group of results - after two or three games, they want to chuck a few players out and change the combination. That's where the crux of it changes, because in cricket form can change overnight. If you know that someone's got that ability then it's important to back them. Those four or five years gave a blueprint to CSK in terms of how to back players in order to get championships.
When it came to the celebrations of the 2010 victory - I have never really been a massive one for celebration, and CSK has also been like that. I have been in a few other franchises and celebration is one thing that happens very minimally at CSK. There is team bonding all through the year. There is fun and frolic, but it is not that people sit and harp on it and have a big night. People just caught up at the restaurant after the final. We had a chat and that was about it.
Fleming brought in a culture where the big nights were a definite no-no, because in the IPL it's very difficult to manage your time as it is, with the travel and the pressure. CSK treated a win just like they treated a loss. That's one of the reasons why the team has got its laurels.

Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo