It was October 1990; the players’ lounge at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. A veteran at 28, Ravi Shastri sat next to the handsome Pakistani player Imran Khan watching the proceedings of an international double-wicket competition.
The legendary paceman, with a scowl on his face, was browsing through an Indian sports magazine, the cover story of which accused him of taking drugs. “Ravi,” Khan said in his baritone, “I can understand why Indian fans hate me. But tell me why do they treat you so badly; your own Bombay crowd?”
Shastri turned around to face Imran Khan and smiled; a smile that said, “I couldn’t care less.”
Fans loved to hate Shastri
Half a decade earlier, the Mumbai crowd had booed as Shastri walked out to bat against Baroda, in the second innings of a Ranji Trophy match. Fresh from a 450-minute 111 against England at Kolkata (Calcutta), he was known for these ‘lacklustre knocks’ when he wasn’t in the best of moods.
Thursday, 10 January 1985 was different. As he sauntered out of the players’ sit-out at Wankhede Stadium, into the sun, he looked up to get accustomed to the light and then glanced back at the MCA Pavilion crowd as if to say, “I care two hoots for you!”
In that match, Shastri got his fifty in 38 balls and his hundred in 80 balls. He then went after left-arm spinner Tilak Raj, hitting him for six sixes in an over, as he raced to a quick-as-a-flash double hundred. The very people in the MCA pavilion, who had barracked him, stood up to applaud and acknowledge probably the most entertaining knock ever played in first-class cricket.
You could love him or you could hate him. But you could never neglect Ravi Shastri, the player!
Shastri can be a great mentor
Brad Gilbert, the former tennis star and coach, says, “The most effective athletes are the ones who know their weaknesses. Of course they know what they can do. But, just as important, they know what they can’t do.”
Ravi Shastri was an ‘effective’ cricketer and skipper in that sense. And the reason he will be an ‘effective’ coach is that, he knows precisely what he can do and what he can’t!
India skipper, Virat Kohli’s is an extraordinary talent. He is already on his way to becoming a batting legend. Shastri never had that skill level. What is common between the two, however, is their commitment to excellence. That is one reason why the two should get along famously, unlike the Kumble-Kohli relationship which was built on one-upmanship.
They are birds of a feather, Shastri and Kohli; highly ambitious, self-confident, pompous and selectively arrogant. It is therefore likely that both of them will give each other the space to excel and be effective as leaders of men.
In the present cricket scenario, Shastri has the potential to be a great mentor. He is confident, courageous, righteous, responsible and result-oriented. Possessing a sharp mind, he is a charismatic leader, a diplomat and an analyst — all rolled into one.
Shastri would know, however, that even as coach of the Indian team, he will have his haters, just like Kohli does. He, however, wouldn't be fazed by this.
Not a hands-on coach?
It was naïve on the part of Gautam Gambhir, Indian cricket’s angry young man, to allegedly question Shastri’s credentials as a coach just because he couldn’t throw-down cricket balls to batsmen at practice sessions.
One recalls Henry Ford being taken to court, in the early part of the 20th century, because he had neither the technical nor the commercial knowledge to run a large-scale car manufacturing unit. When the judge asked the founder of the Ford Motor Company, if that were true, he is said to have replied. “Spot-on, your honour! But I have four people reporting to me who are said to be the world’s best in manufacturing, administration, finance and marketing.”
Shastri may never be a good hands-on coach. But he is somebody who will recognise the needs of each player and then make full use of the resources available to him to create fulfilling practice sessions. Training sessions now, as he would know, are intense and goal-oriented as compared to the relaxed net sessions of old. These sessions would, of course, include inputs from the skipper, the analysts and the coaching assistants in the team.
Challenges? Bring them on!
With the exceptional talent available to him in the Indian team, and in the reserves, Shastri will look to get the players to regroup and prove their worth overseas. Following the Sri Lankan tour, Team India will visit South Africa, England, Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies before the ICC World Cup in England in June-July 2019.
These trips abroad will be interspersed by visits from the Australians and the Sri Lankans to India.
The new coach, therefore, has his work cut out. His mandate, besides regaining the World Cup in 2019, is to make Indian cricket a dominant force across all formats of the game, in the next couple of years. And that would mean winning matches abroad.
When he was asked about performing overseas, in a media interview recently, Shastri said, “It is a challenge. I’ve always relished challenges even during my playing days. Bring them on!”
Further, when asked why skipper Kohli and the senior players in the squad had wanted him back as coach, he shot back, “I must have done something good.” He believed that the trust factor he had instilled in the team when he was coach, perhaps, worked in his favour when the new Team India coach was to be appointed this July.
There were differences of opinion in the CAC on Shastri’s appointment, as is obvious. Keeping the interests of Indian cricket paramount, however, the COA and CAC had to bow down to the team’s demands.
Shastri is ruthless in competition; he takes no prisoners. If required, he won’t mind ‘winning ugly’. What remains to be seen is if Shastri fulfils his promises? Will Team India prosper under his leadership and become the number one team in the world in Tests, one-day internationals as T20s? Cricket fans will know only in July 2019.
Ravi Shastri, who played for Karnataka SA in Mumbai’s monsoon event, the Kanga League, was at 1983 World Cupper, Balvinder Singh Sandhu’s engagement in 1984. Eight years younger than me — but a couple of inches taller — he put his arms around my shoulders, at the end of that party, and said, “Hey, I heard you are playing for Karnataka SA this season?” When I nodded, he said, “Wow! Mazaa ayega! (It’ll be fun!).”
To my misfortune, he spent the next few years playing club and County cricket in England. But that ‘Mazaa ayega!’ had made my day.
We can only hope he does that to Team India. Mazaa ayega!
The author is a sportswriter and caricaturist besides being a former fast bowler and Mumbai’s Ranji Trophy probable in the 80s.