Ravi Shastri, the former director of the Indian cricket team and commentator, described his 18 months with MS Dhoni and Co as the most satisfying job of his life.
In a 30-minute freewheeling chat with Ayaz Memon, also known as Cricketwallah, on Firstpost Gameplan, Shastri spoke about everything — from India's troubles with spin to the task of handling egos in the Indian dressing room. With jokes, quips and his trademark phrases, Shastri gave insights on all aspects of the game.
In his first video interview in almost 15 years, Shastri fielded live questions from viewers as they tuned in on Periscope as well as Facebook Live.
Shastri had taken over as the team’s director of cricket in 2014 after India lost 1-3 in Tests to England. Under him, the Indian team won the ODI series in England. Despite losing the Test series in Australia 0-2, their fight under the newly-appointed Test captain Virat Kohli, won them rave reviews.
Continuing their aggressive approach, India reached the semi-finals of the ICC World Cup in 2015 only to lose to eventual champions, Australia. India also won their first Test series in Sri Lanka 2-1 after 22 years. India capped off their achievements by climbing to Number 1 position in the Test rankings, after dethroning South Africa 3-0 in a series at home.
In 2016, India lost 1-4 in the ODI series in Australia, but they rallied back with a historic clean sweep in the T20Is. They returned home to overcome Sri Lankans 2-1 in a T20 series, which then helped them to triumph in Asia Cup.
"At the moment, I am doing commentary for the IPL. My job as team director is over. The World T20 was my last assignment. What's in the future for me, only time will tell," Shastri said.
On mentoring Team India as Director
Speaking about his short tenure with the Indian cricket team as director, Shastri said, "In the last 18 months, the entire coaching staff, along with me, did a great job. And the players responded! You wanted them to play in a manner which was fearless and compete with the best in the world on any stage. They played a brand of cricket the was alive, aggressive and that people enjoyed."
"This team has the potential to be a very, very good team. It's a young team, with players between the age of 25 and 28. A lot of them still haven't reached their peak. Give them a year or so. If the nucleus of the team remains the same, you'll see a very strong team."
On Virat Kohli's transformation
The 53-year-old commentator heaped praise on Virat Kohli's golden run that has seen him fortify his position as the number one batsman in the shortest format of the game. "Virat Kohli is a quintessential professional. His work ethic is unmatched. You have to see the way he prepares and the way he trains. These performances don't come overnight. He has put in a lot of practice and hard work. He deserves every bit of the success. He is batting like a champ at the moment and yet, he has still not peaked. I still think there is still room for improvement."
On India's fielding
Shastri believes that the professionalism that Kohli shows has been imbibed by the rest of the Indian team as well. "The standard of fielding has gone up. This is probably the best fielding side ever in the history of Indian cricket. The guys are fitter, they take pride in their fitness and fielding. You don't see that kind of electricity in the field too often. It's one of the reason why India has done so well in all three formats," he said.
On India's troubles with spin bowling
In recent times, India seem to have raised some concerns with their struggles against spin bowling. Shastri said, "There's a reason for India's recent troubles. It's because that a lot of the Test players don't get the opportunity to play domestic cricket. It's not that they don't want to play, but because of the packed calendar, they don't get the chance. Luckily, this year a lot of cricket is at home. In between the games, they will go and play some domestic cricket as well. That'll make a big difference."
On the impact of T20 on the sport of cricket
"Test matches are producing results in 3-4 days. The effect T20 has had is on the patience of a Test match player. Gone are those days when you see a player batting for days at a stretch. When players try different, innovative shots and they work in the shorter formats, they think that why not try those in Tests. So, you have to get on with the game and that's why we are seeing Test matches getting over in less than four days," Shastri said with a wry smile.
On the appointment of a CEO for BCCI
The BCCI appointed media professional Rahul Johri as its first chief executive officer on Wednesday and Shastri lauded the move. "It's a step in the right direction. It's very good because you have someone who is accountable now and is a professional. (Rahul Johri) comes with loads of experience. He can help portray the BCCI in the manner it should be. At times, more negatives come to the surface than the positive work that they have done," he noted.
On the relation between players and media
The interaction between the Indian cricket team players and the media has seen a drastic change in the past few years. Shastri blames the current 'stormy' interactions, like the one between MS Dhoni and an Australian scribe on his retirement, on the constant scrutiny that the players are forced to deal with "There's too much of media around the players, that's the problem. When we played the game, the pressure then as opposed to the the pressure that a player goes through now, it's like chalk and cheese. You have the print media, the electronic media and the news channels. There's no respite. At times, it gets to the players, they are only human. It's not like they have anything against the media."
On handling different egos in the dressing room
In a time where fractured dressing rooms have derailed plenty of talented teams, Shastri said the Indian team is one unified unit. "I have never had a problem. The key is communication. You set goals and you make sure those goals are achieved only through the team and not by individuals. Individual performances are secondary. At the end of the day, you have to see what a team does. For that to happen, everyone has to be on the page.
On reviving Test cricket
Shastri believes Test cricket needs to be modified if it has to survive the test of time. "The future of Test cricket is a big challenge for the authorities. One of the hands I have is to take the last session of a Test match and make it day/night. If you have to use a pink ball or red ball for one session, so be it. Day/Night Test cricket is a great idea if you can fix the problem of dew. It's a case of taking a mental decision."
On his best moments behind the mic
"Dhoni the man on strike, way she goes into the crowd. SIX more! India win the World Cup!" Ravi Shastri picked the 2011 World Cup final as his favourite moment while commentating. "Who can beat that moment? The World Cup in India, the skipper smashing it into the crowd, and the party begins on Marine Drive. What else do you want? Nothing beats winning the World Cup."
Watch Ravi Shastri recreate his iconic commentary from the winning moment of the 2011 World Cup final. pic.twitter.com/CiGks0a776
— FirstpostSports (@FirstpostSports) April 22, 2016