R Ashwin – the hidden storyteller in the Indian cricket team

2. Make me Engaged / 5. General

R Ashwin – the hidden storyteller in the Indian cricket team

I consume a LOT of cricket-related content. My main source? www.ESPNCricinfo.com.

​I absolutely love their incisive, stats-backed analysis, keen eye for detail and their glorious command over the language.

​But I do have one confession to make… I don’t read anything when India is losing/has lost (I’m an emotional loser that way).

​Reading about India’s losses (especially painful ones) seems like sprinkling salt over wounds. (For e.g. I didn’t read anything about the Adelaide test after that 36-all-out)!

​On the other hand, when India wins, I obsessively read all the Cricinfo stuff that I can get my hands on… it’s a great way to relive that moment of happiness with several doses of intelligent analysis and storytelling.

​Which is why, for me, reading about the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane (uff, that Gabba match) tests was like being a kid in a candy store.

​Sid Monga, Sambit Bal, Karthik Krishnaswamy, Osman Samiuddin, Andrew McGlashan (where art thou, Andy Zaltzman?) and many others played their part in keeping me in a happy post-win-bliss-state for a long time after 19-Jan.

​And then I came across a series of videos by an unlikely person.

​Ashwin Ravichandran.

An unlikely storyteller

R Ashwin – one of India’s most successful offspinners – comes across as a geeky engineer (which, of course, he is). On the field, he uses that sharp cricketing brain along with his abundant skills to make frequent match-winning contributions.

​But what blew me away was his skill as an interviewer – and as a natural storyteller.

​In case you have missed it, leave everything this weekend and watch this five-episode series of interviews that Ashwin has conducted – discussing the Australia series – with leading members of the Indian coaching staff:

​Many of you may have missed/avoided seeing it since four out of these five conversations are in Tamil. Let that not be a deterrent.

​For one, the subtitles have been very smartly done – the conversation’s essence has been transliterated really well. And two, Ashwin is naturally more comfortable in Tamil – so he uses the appropriate phrases, movie references and funny expressions which make it utterly hilarious (even after translation).

​But more than anything else, Ashwin displays a keen sense of ‘story’. In each conversation, he is able to ensure that it never gets boring, abstract or lapses into inane statements like “the boys played really well”.

​I watched (and re-watched) all five conversations (uff, the things I have to do to write this post) and could glean some useful story-spotting tips displayed by Ashwin.

​These tips can be used by all of us – at work!

​Say, a team in your organisation has achieved a major milestone (perhaps a big Sales target). and you are doing an on-stage interview of that team – talking about their journey and any lessons that they can share with the rest of the organisation.

​Here are four tips from Ashwin that you can use, when trying to ‘find the story’ in such situations:

  1. Focus on the key moments
  2. Give behind-the-scenes tidbits
  3. Visually describe the scene
  4. A bit of harmless miming doesn’t hurt

Let’s begin.

1. Focus on the key moments:

A test match is one of the longest forms of any sport. Discussing the session-by-session details would have made it very dull for the audience. And so, Ashwin has a plan in mind – he jumps from one dramatic moment to another, as he’s chatting with his interviewee.

​What’s more interesting is how he ‘slows down’ during the key moments. In fact, he provides the context for the moment and then asks the interviewee – what was going on in their minds during that moment.

​For instance:

  • He asks R Sridhar (the fielding coach) to comment on the many missed catches (watch from 2:05 in Episode 1). Sridhar’s reaction is hilariously honest and cute – as he talks about fearing for his job…
  • In his conversation with Bharat Arun (the Bowling coach) Ashwin says “Typically, when the batsmen are playing on the crease, the bowling coaches would be praying ‘Hey guys, please give us a decent number of runs to defend on the board!’. In that context, when India got all out for 36 in the second innings at Adelaide, how did you feel?”- which provokes a sheepish response from Arun!

​As a story spotter, ask yourself – what are the key moments in the entire project (especially where the interviewees had to take critical decisions or faced some challenging news…) and find out how did they react during those situations. You might unlock some fascinating insights.

​Alright, so key match moments are usually known to everyone. But what about the moments that happen within the dressing room? Which is where comes the next one…

2. Give behind-the-scenes tidbits:

Ashwin realises that he may not be an accomplished storyteller like Harsha Bhogle or the Cricinfo guys. But he has one advantage that none of them have: Access.

​And he uses this access to share fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits that can thrill cricket lovers. For instance:

  • Sridhar shares how the Head Coach, Ravi Shastri fought with the Australian cricket board to ensure that the players’ families were allowed to travel.
  • Bharat Arun tells how he heard Steve Smith shout in frustration after getting bowled by Bumrah down the leg side during the Melbourne test

​The tidbits are great fun… and give an insightful peek into the professional lives of these superstars.

​But it would be even more useful if the audience could actually visualise the scene. Which brings us to…

3. Visually describe the scene

A story of an incident should be seen, not just heard. Frequently, Ashwin would stop his interviewee just as they are about to share an incident and then ask them to describe the scene first.

​For instance, here’s a (lightly edited) excerpt from the first video:

Ashwin: (Has asked a question about Sridhar’s reaction to the dropped catches)

Sridhar (the fielding coach): They were 111/7. Tim Paine pulled one to the deep and Bumrah – one of our better fielders – dropped the catch. I was wondering how I will show my face to the head coach after such a drop. I turned back to look at him… when I found he wasn’t there…

Ashwin: (Looking at the camera) Let me pause here for a bit… How do all of you (coaching staff) watch the match? Who sits with whom? Give us the order of sequence.

Sridhar: Hm, so before the match starts, the four of us sit in the coaches box

Ashwin: Who are these four?

Sridhar: Ravi Shastri (Head coach), Vikram Rathore (batting coach), Bharat Arun (Bowling coach) and myself (Fielding)

Ashwin: There’s also a fifth member right?

Sridhar: Yes, there’s Hari, our analyst, who keeps looking at the computer and giving us the ‘horoscope’. … So anyway, the catch is dropped. I look back to see where the head coach is, and he’s not on his seat! On investigating, I realise – he’s almost sprawled on the floor… in disappointment and anger…. (both laugh) That was one of the scenes of that test match for me!

​I loved how Ashwin realises that his audiences cannot ‘see’ the scene and makes sure that Sridhar gives a full visual description to them.

​But sometimes just a description ain’t enough. Sometimes you need to act it out!

4. A bit of harmless miming doesn’t hurt!

On more than a few occasions, Sridhar (the most animated of the interviewees) does a great job of imitating the person being described (especially Ravi Shastri!).

​Sure imitation can be tricky – and can fall flat if you have my (lack of) acting skills. But instead of plainly repeating the dialogue if you can say it with the right emotions, it can have a significant impact on the audience.

Cometh the hour, cometh the storyteller

The 2020-21 India Australia series is one for the ages. People will be talking about it for many decades to come.

​And in 2041, when people would be telling their children (and grandchildren) about this fabulous series, they will want to share some actual stories about the win…

​And at that time, when they find this genuine, fascinating and hilarious video series by R Ashwin, they will be grateful that one of cricket’s greatest spinners decided to take the trouble of donning his storyteller hat … and create some magical stories that manage to inform and entertain us so well.

Image Credits: commons.wikimedia.org

Get Storytelling tips in your Inbox

Subscribe to the 'Story Rules on Saturday' newsletter

Get a free e-book that decodes the hidden storytelling structure used by leaders like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Your infomation will never be shared with any third party