Shastri: Player, commentator, coach and commentator again

Ravi Shastri retires coach Indian cricket team carat Kohli

Ravi Shastri has had a contrasting career; from being a player to BCCI’s ‘own guy’ to being a guide to the team. Patriot takes a look at his journey so far  

Ravi Shastri left the Team India dressing room on Monday night delivering what he has always been best at… ‘a lecture’!

As the five-year-long tenure of former India skipper-turned commentator came to an end following Virat Kohli & Co’s failure to qualify for the semi-finals of the ongoing T20 World Cup, there is no better time than this to turn around and see different images of Shastri’s contrasting career.

From a tall left-arm specialist spinner in the early 1980s, Shastri moved up as an opener of the same team in a few years to face the likes of Imran Khan, Malcolm Marshall, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee. From someone who used to bat at No. 10, he not only opened for India but became one of the rare batters to score centuries in the West Indies, Pakistan, Australia and England. As someone who used to crawl in One-day International cricket, Shastri became Champion of Champions in 1985 and went on to achieve a rare feat of hitting six sixes in an over (even though that was a domestic game).

When this Mumbaikar’s career ended a bit prematurely due to his knee injury in 1992, he used his limited cricket stature to become Indian television’s leading voice for the next two decades. But here too, he used his position well to serve the cause of the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) more than that of the players.

BCCI kept rewarding all his efforts aptly for all his services (for being a cheerleader) and made him part of various committees of power and profit. From panels to pick coaches to performance review panels to IPL Governing Council, Shastri was BCCI’s ‘own guy’ almost everywhere.

But trust the ‘professional’ BCCI which improved his bio data by giving him the chance to coach the elite Team India for the next five years, starting 2017.

Shastri surely would be back to the BCCI-endorsed commentary team sooner than later. And that was reflected in his speech on November 8 when he effusively went on to say so many things without really caring for the facts. “You guys as a team have exceeded my expectations with the way you played. Over the last few years to go across the globe, across all formats and beat everyone, makes you one of the great teams that have played the game,” Shastri was seen saying this in the dressing room in this clip posted by none other than BCCI.

One may forgive Shastri for going overboard while delivering his parting speech in that emotional hour, but in reality, this team didn’t beat everyone across formats. New Zealand (0-2 in 2020) were never beaten during his tenure, nor were the weak South Africans (1-2) in their own country. Lost to England once (1-4 in 2018), while the recent series is still the incomplete one (leading 2-1) after the last and fifth Test was ‘postponed’ due to the Indian support staff along with a player testing positive post attending Shastri’s latest book launch in England.

Last but not the least, the one-sided defeat against Pakistan in the ongoing T20 WC has not gone down well with the Indian audience back home.

 

Performances Down Under

If one could analyse Shastri’s stint minus the hyperbole, then the Test series win over Australia earlier this year (2021) would go down as the No. 1 event in Indian cricket.

It was under his guidance (may not be coaching) that India scripted history, not once but twice, by becoming the first Asian team to beat Australia in a Test series in their backyard in 2018-19 and then in 2020-21. The last game in Brisbane earlier this year was a classic moment for his career when regular skipper Kohli was missing due to personal commitments and Shastri along with stand-in skipper Ajinkya Rahane got what was unthinkable for teams before that.

One would say that India did reach the finals of the inaugural World Test Championship, but the way they were outplayed by eight wickets by the much better planned and prepared Kiwis was the biggest blot of Shastri’s tenure.

Even before Shastri took over, Team India became the No. 1 Test ranked country under his predecessor Anil Kumble. The team, however, managed to hold on to this position for 42 months from 2016 to 2020.

Anil Kumble talks to the media at a press conference in 2014 at the ICC Headquarters in Dubai Sports City PHOTO: Getty images

It was also under Shastri’s tenure that India were favourites to lift the One-day International World Cup trophy in 2019. We reached the last four stages but were again beaten by Black Caps bowing out of the contention.

Shastri’s earlier stint with Team India was in 2014 when he took over for eight months from India’s tour of England till the 2015 World Cup, alongside Duncan Fletcher. He was given the sole responsibility of the team till the 2016 T20 World Cup where India reached the semi-finals.

 

Kumble vs Shastri

Many expected Shastri to continue with Team India after the 2016 T20 WC, but Anil Kumble was surprisingly given this responsibility. This, according to many, hurt Shastri the most who wanted to continue. Kumble was appointed officially as the head coach of the Indian team in July 2017.

What followed for the next one year was a magical time for Indian cricket as the Kohli-Kumble duo demolished every opponent team during this time to win 22 matches from an overall 35. During this time, India played 17 Test matches and finished with a record of winning 12 and losing just one. India achieved an impeccable win rate of 73% under the guidance of Kumble, but there was only one problem with those victories that most of the Test series which India won against New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England amongst other minnows were played on spinning home turfs.

With the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (CoA) led by Vinod Rai ruling over BCCI, Kumble’s open tussle with skipper Kohli over a few issues paved the way for Shastri to return to the Indian dressing room once again.

Shastri suited Kohli more than Kumble because he is more of a ‘softie’ unlike Kumble, the hard taskmaster.

Sashtri performance Kumble performance Indian cricket team coaches comparison

Many BCCI old-timers feel that Kumble’s formula was straight and simple… “If any of the players are complaining, I feel those players are the ones who should be left out of the team”. Shastri, on the other hand, tackled Kohli & Co differently… “Ok boys, don’t practice today because you guys are not feeling well. Ok take a holiday, go shopping”.

That’s how they believe that commentator Shastri lasted close to five years while Kumble was forced out by superstar skipper Kohli in just one year.

Kumble, just like Shastri, had no experience of coaching but his vast playing experience more than made up for it. More importantly, he has always been deemed as one of the most aggressive players of his generation and an immaculate leader. So as a coach, Kumble tried hard to bring in a fresh perspective to the dressing room.

But he failed to understand that he was dealing with this era’s superstar, Kohli, who was not ready to let anyone dominate him inside the dressing room.

Shastri had no such ego and let players develop their characters on and off the field. There was never a single instance where he had a difference of opinion with Kohli or for that matter Rahane in team selection or approaching a game. Being a smart commentator, he knew when to say what.

One such example was when Team India lost badly to the touring Sri Lankan squad in Dharamshala One-dayer in 2017. Any coach would have called a team meeting to lecture players on such a huge (seven-wicket) loss. Shastri did the same by calling a team meeting at night. But instead of scolding players or lecturing them on how to bounce back, he played Antakshari (sing songs) with the boys till midnight.

Now that Shastri’s tenure is over, it would be interesting to see his next move. In his own words, “he might be doing commentary for India vs England remaining Test in 2022”.

(Cover: India captain Virat Kohli chats with coach Ravi Shastri during India nets ahead of their Cricket World Cup Match against Sri Lanka PHOTO: Getty images)

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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