Ravichandran Ashwin has been a constant presence in the Indian cricketing scene for a decade and a half now. Apart from his performance, one thing that has made his mark on the field is his unique jersey number, No. 99

Ashwin now wears the number 99 across all formats for the Indian cricket team and the Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) allowed numbers along with the names on players’ jerseys in the 1999 World Cup, where captains were assigned No. 1.

Sachin Tendulkar was popular among fans for his jersey No. 10. The trend continued with MS Dhoni picking No. 7 as his birthday falls on July 7. 

Virat Kohli wears No. 18, while Rohit Sharma has 45. Chris Gayle is another player who has a distinct number on his jersey, 333, his highest score in Test cricket.

Ashwin jersey number: 99

For Ashwin, the origin of his jersey number came from his school days.

“My roll number in school was nine,” Ashwin told Rajasthan Royals. “I did not have great experiences in school, I used to be off the class all the time, I used to play cricket. And the teachers used to make fun during roll calls, wondering whether I was even in school, as a little banter.

“After that, I moved on to college where my roll number was 14. I had even worse experiences there. I just hated it, the moment the roll number came, they attributed that to me and it was a point of fun for somebody else.

“When I went to Chennai Super Kings the first year, I just said give me anything but No. 14. I landed up and they had 14 printed on my jersey, probably due to an oversight. I did not want 14 since it created too much trauma in my head. 

“I wanted 9. But Parthiv Patel had 9 so I said give me 99 – two nines, I did not know if Sourav Ganguly had it (in international cricket), nothing of that sort,” said the star off-spinner.

For Ashwin, 99 was just a way out of number 14 and had no particular reason – the roll number notwithstanding – for how he landed on it. But the off-spinner admits that he was once swayed to believe that the number would prove unlucky.

Numbers 23 and 999

“I realised over the last 15 years that there are a lot of people who will piggyback on your journey. That includes people who play on your spirituality, who play on your mind, they will talk about numerology, astrology, they will all come. 

“And over the course of the journey, I met some numerologists who said 99 will not work for you and you should take another number because the stars are aligned in this manner and you take this number and see the growth pattern. They said I’d probably become a Chief Minister or even a Prime Minister…

“I agreed and decided to take a different number. Those are decisions I will always go back and review if there was a DRS to life,” said Ashwin who briefly sported jersey No. 23 while playing for Punjab Kings in the IPL.

But Ashwin was quick to realise that success or failure on the field should be on his terms and not attributed to superstitions. He made a switch back to his old number 99 and continued to earn accolades.

“And one day I reflected… I was never ridden by sentiment. Failure and success should be on my terms. So I decided whatever happens, even if I do not play the game tomorrow it is fine, I will go back to 99 only. Not for luck, it is who I am. I chose it. It happened. I didn’t want 14, and I got that initially. I wanted 9, but I didn’t get that. And I got 99. My career was made with that number.

“Life sends you people and instances to pan out in a certain way. I landed with 99 initially. Why should I change? You cannot change a number, you cannot change somebody’s life by giving them a tablet. It happens, the place is an experience, just go with the flow.”

Ashwin, however, could not use his number during his time at Delhi Capitals in IPL 2020. Since Amit Mishra donned the No. 99 at the Capitals, Ashwin had his jersey number as 999. 

But during one of the matches, where the leggie Amit Mishra was not playing, Ashwin subtly covered a nine to have his way with jersey number 99.

R Ashwin started his Indian cricket journey with No. 9 before moving to 99. The No. 99 has a rich legacy of predecessors before Ashwin. 

Tendulkar, in the initial days after the introduction of jersey numbers, wore No. 99 before switching over to No. 10. Sourav Ganguly also donned the 99 jersey, famous for the 2002 Natwest final win celebration, before shifting to 24 before the 2003 World Cup. 

Ashwin acknowledges his exploits with jersey number 99, even off the field, as his X (formerly Twitter) handle also goes by @ashwinravi99.