The least suspense-ridden puzzle of the past week has been solved. From the status quo in Kashmir to the state of Arun Jaitley's health, to the fate of Sartaj Singh in Sacred Games, you could have found many – rather, any – issue confounding the Indian mindspace for the days around its 73rd Independence, but the "hunt" for the next coach of the Indian men's cricket team wasn't one.
Sure, there was a Mike Hesson – he who along with Brendon McCullum is credited for the new coming of the Black Caps in the second half of the 2010s – and a Tom Moody – a man with proven pedigree both internationally, having taken Sri Lanka to the 2007 World Cup final, and in India, with seven seasons (and counting) of success with the Sunrisers Hyderabad – and even a Lalchand Rajput – yes, he was in charge of the Indian team when they claimed the 2007 World T20 in South Africa – but was there ever, really, any doubt over who was winning this race?
And so Ravi Shastri will continue his stint as Team India head coach, a role he has held since the controversial ouster of Anil Kumble after the 2017 Champions Trophy — in addition to a stint as Team Director during 2015/16 – at least until the end of the 'double' T20 World Cup, with tournaments in both 2020 and 2021.
What are the biggest challenges facing Coach Shastri as he retains his position as the head of the India think-tank? What are the major hurdles for him to have his wards climb over for his third tenure to be a lasting one?
Can IPL-blessed India be a T20I power again?
The land of the biggest T20 league in the world doesn't seem to set fire to the format – international cricket-wise, that is – quite the way one would imagine they could, isn't it? For all of the annual 'finds' of every IPL season, and the production line of T20 specialists, the Indian T20 international setup, somehow, has given the appearance of one caught in time (or formats).
The bare numbers aren't going to tell you that, because in the two years of Shastri 2.0 – beginning with a one-off T20I in Sri Lanka, and ending with the recent contest in West Indies – India lost just two out of 12 bilateral T20I series, while also winning the triangular Nidahas Trophy in 2018, and boasted an overall win-loss record of 25-10.
But you can't not have thought, at times, that India's T20I template isn't too dissimilar to the one they use – with immense success, granted – in ODIs. And as much of a fan of Indian cricket as you may or may not be, that is not a system designed for optimal working in the shortest format of the game circa 2019.
There may be the first-ever Test Championship to contend with and you're always working in four-year cycles when it comes to ODI cricket, but for the length of this third term under Shastri, the importance of T20Is will be paramount – not least thanks to the period culminating with a T20 World Cup on home soil, in 2021.
How Shastri tunes Team India back-and-forth among formats, more than ever, and how willing he, in tandem with captain Virat Kohli, is to allowing India's T20 specialists to take them forward (even if at the risk of discontinuity with the ODI team), will be defining components of the next 24-odd months.
Will 'intent' be a ready answer to all troubles?
The motor-mouth nature of the Indian coach allows for catchy headlines and newsy sound-bites. Remember "best Indian team in 15-20 years", or that the Test series win in Australia was "as big if not bigger" than the 1983 World Cup?
One word, though, that features heavily in most press conferences involving the men's national team, is intent.
Opener did or did not take enough time to get in? Batsman got out trying one heave one too many? Pacer dug the ball in short one too many times? The answer to most problems in life around Indian cricket has seemed to revolve around that one word, and while the intent behind the usage of intent – both word and idea – might come from a good place, one really wonders if it's become way too convenient.
To be absolutely fair – maybe the harder truths are spoken of within the realms of the dressing room, and not deemed accessible to the rest of the world. If that is the case, then kudos to Shastri, Kohli and Co. for maintaining and following dressing room sanctity.
But if, just in case, it isn't so, and 'intent' is a protective cover to hide behind, then anyone invested in Indian cricket in any capacity has to hope things change soon.
Which way will Rishabh Pant go?
Speaking of intent, how important is the think-tank's handling of potentially the most valuable (and certainly the most talked-about) asset around Team India going to be in the near future?
The one aspect of Shastri's mentorship that is regaled the most – inside and outside the team – is his man-management, and his ability to raise spirits (absolutely NO pun intended); that character might face its biggest examination yet in the way Shastri deals with a 21-year-old who is proving to be quite the mercurial character himself.
No deep reading into Rishabh Pant's records is fair at such an early stage of his career – be it the recklessness of his limited-overs dismissals, or the robustness of his record-breaking Test match batting displays in England and Australia – but you know, already, that there is a potential amount of volatility that you're dealing with.
Go back to Virender Sehwag; he might have been lucky to have a Sourav Ganguly's arm – and backing – on his shoulders, but in hindsight, he and all of India are just as thankful to a John Wright, not sparing him from a lashing after one irresponsible give-away too many.
The next year or two could be make-or-break time for Pant, and the schooling he's being provided could be just as vital as his ability.
Which way is MS Dhoni going?
Speaking of wicketkeeper-batsmen, what is the MS Dhoni situation? You thought, for at least a few years leading up to the 2019 World Cup, that England will be the final farewell to 'Captain Cool'. Then, you thought, maybe he's going to make an announcement after India return from the World Cup, and call time on his storied stint as an international cricketer.
Well, it's been more than a month since the World Cup ended, and the only public information is that India's most decorated captain is on an official leave of absence to serve with the Indian Army.
There's nothing wrong with any of what has transpired, but does the postponing of the impending decision – the delaying of the inevitable, if one may – cause any amount of confusion around the team?
Will he be back? If so, will it be for both ODIs and T20Is? Is he in consideration for the twin T20 World Cups around the corner, the second of which will take place after he turns 40? If he is, does the management think he will last till then? If he isn't, are India being unfair on the potential next-in-line contenders?
Retirements, especially in Indian cricket, are a sensitive issue – but touching on nerves, in the long term, is much lesser a crime than fiddling with the future, and the fortunes, of a cricket team.
Is Shastri more than just a "yes-man"?
Touchy topics, did I just mention?
It's not the most well-guarded of doubts among those who are at press conferences – and certainly not a line of conversation that pleases the Indian skipper too much – but ever since Kumble was displaced from his position, the authority of the captain has been a long-standing elephant in the room.
Again, to be absolutely fair, it isn't known whether Shastri agrees with every idea of Kohli's, or that they look each other in the eye about every decision around the team – and they needn't do so, to be perfectly honest.
But what the stakeholders of Indian cricket need to be assured of – or deserve to be guaranteed – is that lines of conversation do exist inside the dressing room, and subservience to absolute authority is not a practice within its confines.
The best teams – sport or otherwise – are those that allow, and encourage, debate. It is in the best interest of Indian cricket that the same holds true inside the sanctum sanctorum that is the Indian dressing room.
Will India go the distance?
Enough of the arguable deficiencies, let's look at the inarguable definite – India ARE, by a margin perhaps, the most well-placed team around the international game.
First in Tests, second in ODIs, one of only two teams to feature in the top-4 in each format; a win-loss ratio above 2.5 across formats since Shastri replaced Kumble (England, at 2.03, are second, and no other team touches 1.7).
A batting roster that continues the rich legacy of decades, a fast-bowling stock hitherto unseen in the country’s past, and fitness levels that have become an international benchmark.
The only real complaint from recent times for those invested in Indian cricket is the absence of an ICC-event title since 2013; consistency is no longer a trouble, for India are the only side to have reached at least the semi-finals of all five global events (ODI and T20I) after that Champions Trophy triumph – but with increased returns come increased demands, and the insatiable hunger of an Indian cricket fan cannot be doused without the gleam of a trophy.
Will that trophy come in Australia in 2020? Or at home in 2021? Or even with the inaugural World Test Championship, to be awarded in mid-2021?
The success of Ravi Shastri 3.0 – fairly or not – to most, will hinge on India being crowned champions once again.
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