In the years to come, New Zealand U-19 legspinner Adithya Ashok wants to play for the Chennai Super Kings. It seems a natural choice for the 17-year-old, who was born in Vellore in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. But if he doesn’t make it that far, he is happy as long as he is the “best version of himself”. So far in the U-19 World Cup in South Africa, he has been the side’s exciting bowler.
Adithya was four years old when his parents moved to Auckland. Born to a nurse and a cricketer-turned-radiographer, he remembers the time his father mowed a strip in the garden behind their house to “infect the love for cricket” within his son, and since then Adithya hasn’t looked back.
This isn’t the first time he is taking part in a World Cup. In 2015, he was the New Zealand captain at the Under-13 Indoor Cricket World Cup in Australia. However, looking at his long-term goals made him quit that format of the sport, because his stroke-making in the indoor format was having an adverse effect on his outdoor batting.
In an interview over two years ago, Adithya had said his father had given him “strict instructions” of keeping academics as his first priority, and cricket was secondary. But as he has risen up the ranks through school cricket and now that he is in New Zealand’s Under-19 set-up, that instruction has faded away.
“As I’ve grown up in Auckland, we’ve realised that the pro-study type of culture exists a lot less in New Zealand,” Adithya tells ESPNcrcinfo before the game against India last week. “You’re free to do where your passion lies. As I grow older, I would love to play Test match cricket. It’s the pinnacle of the sport, and I’m striving towards it.”
What has made Adithya so dangerous in the World Cup is his threatening googly, developed with the help of former legspinner Tarun Nethula, also of Indian origin who played five ODIs for New Zealand in 2012. Having been told stories of Shane Warne growing up, Adithya developed the wrong’un early in his career. His favourite mode of dismissal is the “googly going through the gates and clipping off stump,” but unlike other legspinners, he doesn’t care so much about wickets.
“My bowling style, my mentality is all about being consistent and disciplined,” Adithya says. “You’re always going to be hit for runs as a leggie, so I’m trying to be the kind of bowler who does not leaks runs. It’s a cliché associated with legspinners to be wicket-takers, but I’d rather stay tight.”
Adithya Ashok’s three wickets dented Sri Lanka’s middle order ICC via Getty
Despite that thinking, Adithya has been a consistent wicket-taker. He has gone wicketless only twice in 12 innings in Under-19 ODIs and took back-to-back three-fors in the World Cup warm-ups. In his first bowling effort at the tournament, he claimed 3 for 38 to restrict Sri Lanka to 242 which New Zealand chased down in the final over.
Their next game was against India and when asked whether there would be mixed feelings about playing against the country where he was born, his dead-faced response of “what do you mean by identity crisis?” answered all questions about his possible dilemma.
“We’re all patriotic New Zealand fans now,” Adithya says.” We call New Zealand home, and if we are watching India play New Zealand on the TV, New Zealand’s gotta win.
“I call New Zealand home, and that’s all that matters for me. You won’t find a person more passionate about playing at a higher level for the Black Caps.”
As for what it says about New Zealand’s sporting culture that fellow Indian-origin players like Jeet Raval and Ish Sodhi are now mainstays in the national team, Adithya says: “It just shows how open and welcoming the people of New Zealand are. No matter where you’re from, you’re a Kiwi now, that’s all that matters.”
A firm believer that New Zealand continue being the “nice guys of cricket”, he wants to follow in the footsteps of his favourite sportsperson.
“I admire Kane Williamson,” he says,” and it’s quite a cliché, but my role model is Roger Federer. His longevity and success is amazing but the best thing is just how humble and down to earth he is. He’s a complete gentleman, goes about his job without a fuss. That’s pretty much the Kiwi-esque way of playing sport.”
For all of them – Williamson, New Zealand Under-19 and Federer – the next job at hand is to take on in-form oppositions in must-win games over the next two days: India in the T20I series, an unbeaten West Indies side in the Under-19 quarter-final and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-final on Thursday.