R Ashwin is vulnerable to actual chess

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3 minute read

Marnus Labuschagne recently described facing R Ashwin as being “like a chess game”. It was an interesting choice of words as actual chess could prove to be the off-spinner’s greatest weakness.

Labuschagne was alluding to that to and fro of decision-making between himself and a thoughtful bowler like Ashwin who is trying to dismiss him.

  • Ashwin sets a field
  • Labuschagne decides on a palette of viable strokes
  • Ashwin bowls
  • Labuschagne plays a shot
  • Ashwin revises his plan
  • Repeat

That’s the basic mechanics of their contest. There’s an obvious physical element too, but both men have attained a sufficient level of control in their respective fields that it’s really more a battle of wits.

Bring your A-game. May the best man win.

But then every player has off-field issues that could potentially inhibit their performance at one time or another. R Ashwin is not like other people. We think R Ashwin is vulnerable to chess.


R Ashwin enjoys chess. We know this not just because he has said so, but because he has gone so far as to make a series of online videos with Grandmaster RB Ramesh titled “Learn the Basics of Chess”.

This is not like Netflix paying Brendon McCullum and Phil Tufnell to play golf. This is not a job. This is R Ashwin being sufficiently enthused by chess that he alienates probably 90% of his YouTube audience by making a bunch of videos about it.

That’s not even rhetoric really. Episode 3 of Learn the Basics of Chess has had 18,000 views, versus over 300,000 views for a Border Gavaskar Trophy video he did that went up less than a week ago.

And fair enough, you know. He’s a cricketer. One of the most famous cricketers in the world. People don’t go to him for chess any more than they come to a cricket website to hear how a dark comedy about industrial piping is really very great.

But good on R Ashwin for looking after the small fraction of his audience who are happy to be taken to new and unexpected places. We applaud that.

So it’s pretty clear that Ashwin is enthusiastic about chess, but early in his first Learn the Basics of Chess video he goes so far as to describe it as “one of my biggest madness” – and this is where things get dangerous.


Ashwin is not the only pro cricketer with a love of chess. Andrew Flintoff famously played youth chess for Lancashire (and his brother played for England).

But we don’t even have to look that far. Another current India spinner, Yuzvendra Chahal, once represented India at the World Youth Chess Championship and is currently ranked 81,969th in the world.

Also, rather less impressively, here’s Sourav Ganguly sitting opposite Magnus Carlsen at a chess board.

‘Playing chess against Magnus Carlsen’ would be overselling it, even if a couple of pieces were moved.

But here’s the thing with Ashwin. It appears to be a renewed obsession for him. He said he used to play when he was younger, only to give up on the basis that he, “had to think so much and then go and play cricket.”

We suppose what he’s saying is that you’ve only got so much conscious thinking capacity each day and if you’re the kind of cricketer he is, you don’t want to piss that away on chess.

Which begs the question… has R Ashwin started pissing away all his conscious thinking capacity on chess?

In a world where cricketers are repeatedly experiencing burnout, is India’s finest bowler courting mental exhaustion?

“I never thought that it could be so addictive,” he said. “It has becomes such an addiction for me.”

So there you have it. If Marnus Labuschagne has a good series, you know what to blame… the sordid night-time allure of the chequered board.

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  1. This is food for thought. Has the readers thinking, what if Ashwin is overthinking on Chess thus underthinking on his primary trade which is cricket !!?

  2. My big question is – RB Ramesh seems to have a green screen setup but in the screenshot he is using it simply to show a green background. Shouldn’t he have some sort of ‘pawns-eye view’ background or similar?

    Seems like a waste of resources to me. Unless he just has a room which is all green, for reasons unrelated to the chroma key compositing opportunities. In which case, I have several follow-up questions.

  3. Surely only a matter of time before a batter comes to the middle with anal beads secreted where the sun don’t shine, wirelessly connected to the dressing room, relaying messages about what delivery to expect.


    1. You can guarantee the Aussies have already considered this. Some even considered it a potential method of cheating at cricket!

  4. What is chess like? I mean, every time someone tries to describe their sport as being more than just hitting stuff, they reach for chess as a simile. But what do chess players do? If a match has been a tense, almost physical affair, what sport do they reach for as a comparison?

    “Yeh no thanks for that, that was a tough one, it was almost like tossing the caber out there at times…”

    Anyway, I once played cricket against Nigel Short’s brother, a fact that everyone here already knows because I’ve mentioned it before.

    1. Can you equally say that you played against Nigel’s short brother or is he tall or of unremarkable height?

    1. Older than my cricket troos. Not much else to say.

      He does remind me a little of witnessing the young Daniel Vittori the year before Murphy was born. I don’t mean the bowling style, I mean the keen young face and students-spectacles.

      Was a crowd, we chanted “student” at Vettori a lot back then. Might that be deemed a form of abuse now, I wonder?

      1. Everything can be taken as a form of abuse these days, I find.

        I once had the word ‘Specsy’ shouted at me by a group of youths.

      2. “Billy Gosset! Billy Gosset! Billy Gosset!” has the makings of a fine crowd chant. And he had excellent specs.

  5. In other news, several of R Ashwin’s gambits seem to have come off this morning, while Steve Smith’s sherpas have failed to progress very far from base camp on that mountain Steve was hoping to dislodge.

  6. In other, other news, Daisy has just observed that Sky Cricket is showing a lot of erectile dysfunction adverts during this women’s World Cup.

    Daisy wonders whether the marketing boffins have observed a statistically significant relationship. I said it might not be hard to prove.

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