Before MS Dhoni became the Thala he is today, R Ashwin was the original Chennai Super King. He secured a contract with Super Kings even before he graduated from college, fronted up to bowl in the Powerplay, and soon became a fan favourite.

Ashwin and Dhoni would combine to snaffle batsmen down the leg side by deploying a leg slip. There was a time when he dismissed Chris Gayle for fun. He brought the sodukku (carrom) ball from the streets of Chennai and made it sexy.

Super Kings were then suspended for two years, and both Dhoni and Ashwin moved to Rising Pune Supergiant(s).

Super Kings marked their return to the IPL with their third title in 2018, but a familiar face was missing. Super Kings had raised the paddle five times for Ashwin, but Kings XI Punjab bid more furiously for him and scooped him up for INR 7.6 crore in the auction.

Kings XI made Ashwin their captain, but he admitted to being a “tad disappointed” to part ways with Super Kings. With protests over the Cauvery river water dispute forcing games out of the MA Chidambaram Stadium last year, Super Kings’ Kings XI’s Ashwin did not line up in Chennai.

For the first time in the IPL, Ashwin will line up at the Chepauk on Saturday as part of the opposition. Quite a few things have changed in Chennai and at Chennai Super Kings. For starters, the summer keeps getting hotter. The metro rail is up and running; Ashwin himself had taken a ride in it to avoid the traffic and get home after the ODI series against England in January 2017.

Super Kings, meanwhile, have rebuilt their side with old pros and Harbhajan Singh has caught the attention of fans with his off-breaks as well as his poetic tweets in Tamil, the local language. Dhoni’s popularity has swelled to a crescendo. You all watched that video.

You can take the Super Kings out of Ashwin. But you just can’t take Chennai out of Ashwin. In various interviews, he has proudly said: “I own the space around Chepauk”. His first spectator experience here was the Test match between India and England in 1993, when Sachin Tendulkar made 165 in a series-clinching victory. Ashwin and his father Ravichandran have been regulars at Chepauk since. Ashwin then became a regular for Tamil Nadu and India in the Test set-up as well.


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