For all his deeds on and off the field, there is a perception about him that Ravi Shastri has not been able to get rid of. Alongside the plaudits he receives, he also gets talked about for unwanted reasons. Tough cricketer who let performance talk for himself, his penchant for things fame can get was often discussed. Straight talking and a sharp commentator, he came to be known as a spokesperson of the establishment in the last few years of his long career behind the microphone. Now as coach, the all-rounder, hailed as an astute cricket brain, in his playing days is called the captain’s man.
Although negative publicity is an inseparable part of stardom, it becoming a constant can be irksome. Shastri has chosen possibly the best way of dealing with it. He says ‘damn it’ and goes about it in the way he thinks is the best. It wins him friend and enemies, but if he is to be believed, he doesn’t care. This wins him more friends and enemies perhaps.
Even if there are arguments against what he has done as India’s chief coach since being reappointed two years ago, Shastri is heavily tipped to be retained when the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) conducts interviews for the post on August 14 and 15. Track record, a possible absence of other heavyweight candidates, the captain’s backing — key factors are in his favour.
“It’s about man management and Shastri has done it well. You don’t see any lack of harmony when the team performs on the field. The players look positive and barring odd bad days, they have done consistently well under him. Otherwise, they couldn’t have topped the team rankings,” says former India coach Madan Lal.
“This job is about understanding the players and getting the best out of each one of them. I’d say India has improved as a team with Shastri as the coach. Bowling is an example,” adds the former player, who was Shastri’s teammate.The coach’s lofty claims about the team’s ability may have caused amusement at times, but the numbers under Shastri are indeed impressive. In his second term starting July 2017, India played 112 matches in three formats and won 75.
Their win percentage of 66.96 is the best in the world in this period. That 72 of these games were played abroad makes the achievement creditable. Over the same time, the winning percentage for England is 61.70. It’s 60 for South Africa, 56.94 for New Zealand and 48.80 for Australia. This, perhaps, answers how India have done with him as the coach.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the ODI team failed to develop a proper middle-order, which played a part in India’s defeat in the World Cup semifinal. As a senior member of the think-tank, Shastri is also responsible for the failure to identify and address this problem. He was at the helm when a pick-and-discard game was going on over No 4. In Test matches too, Virat Kolhi and the coach took longer than expected to acknowledge the value of Cheteshwar Pujara, who used to get dropped every now and then until the second half of the series in England last year.
But then, these might be considered minor blips in a graph steadily moving north. “Even I was disappointed with the way India lost in the semifinal. But you don’t get everything right all the time,” says Arun Lal.
“In general, things have looked good with the Indian team of late and as coach, Shastri deserves credit for that. They have won almost everywhere in one-dayers and dominated the opposition in their backyard. In Tests, too, there are signs of improvement. The body language of the boys looks great. You can sense there is a lot of hunger in this team. They play to win and the intensity seldom drops,” adds the former opener, who played with Shastri in the eighties.
As the captain of a young Mumbai team in the nineties, Shastri was admired by the junior players for his ability to motivate. Other than Kohli batting openly for him, too openly according to many, there are others in the team who reckon that the 57-year-old has retained this quality. During the recently-concluded World Cup in England, a member of the team who is not so fond of everything the coach did was saying that speaking to Shastri, he has learnt how to not get awed by the occasion or the opponent and focus on the job.
However, regardless of how everybody views him, Shastri enjoys the unstinted support of the captain, whose admission of it has caused a stir. Before analysing how prudent or otherwise Kohli’s remark was, it’s important to note that Shastri makes it clear the captain is the boss and remains in the background. He also gives the players freedom in the sense that they decide what is good for them rather than imposing his will. This is not an easy adjustment for someone who is a celebrity himself.
If the Cricket Advisory Committee comrising Kapil Dev, Anshuman Gaekwad and Shantha Rangaswamy gives Shastri the green light, apart from the work he has done, his ability to win friends where it matters will also have played a part.