R Ashwin has called for the Tamil Nadu cricket set-up to utilise the experience of seniors, and ensure better exposure for youngsters through better pitches in first division cricket and participation in high-quality tournaments such as the KSCA league. After two straight home defeats in the Ranji Trophy, Ashwin said the players were "succumbing to the basics of cricket".*
"I don't know where to start and where to end, to be honest, because I don't think there is any lack of effort," Ashwin, the India offspinner, told reporters from Sportstar, The Times of India and The New Indian Express, after Tamil Nadu's 71-run loss to Himachal Pradesh in Dindigul on Thursday.
"I feel there is probably too much inexperience," Ashwin said. "Losing three players [Dinesh Karthik, M Vijay and Vijay Shankar to injuries], who were batsmen with experience, from the last game didn't help. We were outplayed in both the games, especially on the batting front. I've spoken to the selectors. In the next couple of years, we need to pick 15-20 [players] and play them come what may. That's the only way forward."
Tamil Nadu went into the first-class season this year with runners-up finishes in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the domestic one-day competition, and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the 20-over tournament, losing to Karnataka in both finals. For the first two matches of the Ranji Trophy, Tamil Nadu named allrounder Vijay Shankar as their captain, replacing Karthik, who had given up the post. Ashwin, too, was in the fray to be the captain. However, it is understood that his likely non-availability due to his Test commitments for India's tour of New Zealand in January 2020 made Shankar the first-choice candidate.
"It's a rebuilding phase; I don't think we are ready. It cannot start and stop with individuals. It runs deeper. The exposure to play swing bowling is lacking. We need to go to events like the KSCA tournament. That was a major part of my growth as a cricketer. I also feel it is time to revive MJ Gopalan Trophy."
Ashwin stressed that giving longer runs to inexperienced players in the side was crucial if Tamil Nadu were to boost their health in first-class cricket.
"It's a rebuilding phase; I don't think we are ready," Ashwin said. "It cannot start and stop with individuals. It runs deeper. The exposure to play swing bowling is lacking. We need to go to events like the KSCA tournament. That was a major part of my growth as a cricketer. I also feel it is time to revive MJ Gopalan Trophy (an annual first-class match between a Tamil Nadu XI and a Sri Lankan XI, last played in 2007-08).
"It's not like you send back two players tomorrow and get somebody else. That's not going to change things. We need to understand this is not going to change overnight. Red-ball cricket is a different kettle of fish. In white ball, all the seniors were there after the group league. That made things look hunky-dory. But we need to be honest with ourselves."
Ashwin also felt the administration should make sure senior players are around to help lift Tamil Nadu's red-ball quality. He took the example of S Badrinath, the former India and Tamil Nadu batsman, who moved to Vidarbha in 2014-15 after 15 seasons with Tamil Nadu. Ashwin said the state should have made efforts to retain his services.
"We cannot allow the senior players to be the way they want," Ashwin said. "We need to make them inclusive to get the maximum out of them. The last time, when somebody like Badri left, it was not the right time for him to leave. He went to Vidarbha and they capitalised on two good seasons. The team grew. Somebody with such a wealth of experience should be here, guiding our youngsters."
Ashwin was also critical in his appraisal of the feeder set-up in place for Tamil Nadu's first-class cricket and the organisation of competitions at the lower levels.
"For starters, the pace of first-division cricket is appalling, if I have to be polite," Ashwin said. "The pace is so slow that shot-making is almost impossible. It starts with what kind of wickets we produce. For starters, we play in summer and Ranji Trophy is a winter sport in India.
"Our fast bowlers need some fillip to play cricket. You can't play in slow wickets, and ask them to bend their backs day in and day out. We need a cultural shift in terms of honesty. This 'we', I am talking about is administration, team management and senior players."
This article was edited to reflect R Ashwin's comments more accurately, at 11am GMT