Excerpts from a conversation with Mr.Ashwath Mukunthan, a professional cricketer (and an unprofessional musician) who bowls for the TNPL team Kaaraikudi Kaalai.
Ananya: Tell us how your journey in the field of cricket started.
Ashwath: Right from my childhood, I used to watch a lot of cricket on television. So I think that might have been a start to kindle the interest. My elder brother also used to play the sport with quite a bit of enthusiasm. So I joined him and we both used to train together. Later, he chose a different path and went on to become an economist. The sport turned out to become my profession since the last few years.
Ananya: How supportive were your parents regarding your choices? Knowing the typical Indian families..
Ashwath: My parents have been my biggest pillar of support, in every decision that I have taken. For example, I changed from science to commerce in school because I felt like it and they agreed. And likewise with regards to my cricketing journey and being passionate about music too, they have always stood by me. Adding on to that, I had always given the required importance to academics. I think being a sportsman does have a positive effect on the sharpness of the mind because I had a pretty clear understanding of what was taught at school despite studying last minute. So it never clashed with my priority somehow.
Ananya: In India, do you think cricket is given a bit more importance than what is actually required? Players are bashed on failure and the sport is usually watched with nationalistic feelings.
Ashwath: Yes, that’s completely true and sometimes even as a cricketer, it does hurt to see that the other sports are not given as much importance. Cricket is practiced like a religion and the emotional connect that people have with it is so much that the loss is taken on a personal level. And answering the question, the government should take appropriate steps to bridge the gap. As common men we could only talk and suggest possible changes, but ultimately the decision makers on the top level should carry this responsibility.
Ananya: Moving on to the different formats of cricket, the recent trend is that the limited formats like T20 are gaining more popularity than the long test formats. What do you think about that?
Ashwath: As true as that statement might be, every cricketer enjoys playing the test matches more than any other format. But to improve the overall skill set and to keep entertaining people, we have to juggle different formats. And in the end, it is all about enjoying whatever we do.
Ananya: Contrasting to the nature of the sport in 90’s era, today’s cricketing scene seems like it is becoming more of a batsman’s game, at least in the shorter format. What is your take on this?
Ashwath: Being a bowling all rounder, this is something that I’m deeply concerned about. Because all the recent changes in the game like power play and five-fielder restrictions are favouring the batsman. The two new balls rule in ODIs is a major drawback to every bowler given that reverse swing wouldn’t be possible when the ball would be still hard. I’m just hoping that some of these would get scrapped but until then, we can only hope.
Ananya: What kind of infrastructure change do you think is required in our country, for all sports in general, compared to Nations like Australia where they have fitting associations and support?
Ashwath: As a country, for us to achieve bigger things in this field, there could be some centre in common which would have training facilities for every single sport. Maybe like an exclusive institute or a coaching centre which would look into all aspects that are related to sports. It is also of primary importance that sports should be inculcated in the lifestyle of every individual. People look up to the American and Chinese players for getting most of the medals. There, I have seen ten-year-olds do workouts similar to what we do. But if equivalent facilities for training are made available in our country, we would be no less.
Ananya: So how do you think we can make sure that all these are taken till the grassroots level?
Ashwath: With respect to this, we have made quite a bit of progress as we try identifying talents from nook and corner. But on the other hand, the internal politics that exist in all these selection and coaching procedures are a big barrier to progress. I found TNPL doing a very just job in taking sport to all levels, but the problems related to this in other states and sports somehow they have to be sorted out.
Ananya: Comment on the status of women in cricket.
Ashwath: As we all know there has been a significant improvement in the number of audience watching women play. Sadly, the viewership still isn’t as wide as the men’s game, because the mindset of the people has been fixed into watching it one way. But their team has been making tremendous progress and their hard work does have an effect on changing the way people see it. Everything needs a start and the past one year has steered it the right way. I am sure we can expect a lot of progress in the upcoming years.
THE BRIDGE would like to thank Ashwath Mukunthan for taking out his time for the interview. We’d also like to thank the folks at the Global Leaders’ Forum who made this interview possible.