In his column in Tuesday’s Times of India, Ravi Shastri wondered how India’s cricketers would respond to the thrashing handed to them by England.
“Sit back and watch if these glam boys are ready for penance and if they are prepared to plunge their bare hands into the fire and start from scratch.”
Leave aside the image of Kohli and co actually sticking their hands into roaring flames, Shastri now gets to do more than watch. The BCCI has put him in-charge of all cricketing affairs for the ODI leg of India’s tour. Head Duncan Fletcher has been retained, but he has been sidestepped and the BCCI hasn’t been in shy in letting him know he is not wanted anymore. Meanwhile Fletcher’s support staff - bowling coach Joe Dawes and fielding coach Trevor Penney - has been “rested”.
ESPNcricinfo reports that BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel had a conversation with Shastri to find out if he was interested in doing the job.
"We looked at all options,” Patel said. “I must appreciate that Ravi Shastri readily agreed to work in the interests of the Indian team. I asked him, 'This is a challenge, Ravi.' He said, 'Sure Sanjay, we can work out something.'”
It is now Shastri’s job to “re-energise the team”, as the BCCI statement put it. At first glance, It seems to be a damage-limitation exercise for which the board has appointed a well known loyalist.
Yet Shastri could actually have a positive impact on the team’s mental morale. Shastri learned his cricket on the maidans of Mumbai, where little is given and every run and every wicket had to be earned. He was never the most talented of cricketers, but he was always a supremely determined one. He transformed himself from a No. 10 batsmen into an opener because of his sheer bloody-mindedness.
ESPNcricinfo describes Shastri this way in his player profile: “No one could deny his immense value to the side, his commitment to the team's cause and his consistency had to be admired. He very rarely let the country down and was an excellent utility cricketer in the one-day game.”
When Bishan Singh Bedi, India’s manager on the 1990 tour of England, asked him to open the innings, Shastri insisted he would open in all three Tests or in none at all. He got his way and rewarded Bedi with a century in the first and third Tests.
Neither MS Dhoni nor Fletcher are expressive characters. Neither seems to be capable of lighting a fire under a reeling side. Dhoni, certainly, prefers to lead by example rather than rouse his team with some well-chosen verbal fireworks. Sometimes though, what a team needs is a rollicking, emotional, fired-up speech like the one Al Pacino gives in Any Given Sunday, a movie about a flawed American Football team.
Shastri, who can be relied upon to drive up the emotional intensity on air as a commentator, seems particularly suited to that task.