Editor's note: The position of the head coach of Indian cricket team comes with a lot of scrutiny. Ravi Shastri who currently occupies the role invited a lot of criticism after he called the current Indian team the best he has seen in the last 15 years. The comments were made during India's five-match Test series in England that India lost by a margin of 4-1. The timing and nature of these statements have made few former cricketers like Chetan Chauhan question Shastri's position as team's head coach. As the debate about Shastri's position heats up, we analyse what Shastri needs to do to make a case for him to continue in his current role. To read the opposing viewpoint, click here.
He would have expected it. The moment he suggested that the current Indian cricket team was the best he had known in the last 15 years, Ravi Shastri would have known that he had invited trouble for himself. The acerbic criticism that has followed has taken the attention away from a series that could have been so easily 4-1 for India rather than the other way around.
True enough, there have been strident calls for the removal of Shastri as coach of the Indian team. But not all of them have been rooted in logic. Former India opener Chetan Chauhan, for instance, wants him to be sacked for his comments about Virat Kohli’s side being the best in overseas Test matches. Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag, wonderful openers in their time, had their say, too.
There can be no question that Shastri has made it tough for himself by speaking gloriously about the team despite its 2-6 record in 2018 when it has lost successive series in South Africa and England. Such an ill-advised statement will not stop him being judged on the basis of the team’s 1-4 defeat by England that came in the wake of the 1-2 loss in South Africa.
Is that good enough reason for him to be sacked as coach of the Indian team? Definitely not. But, consciously or otherwise, he may have succeeded in getting a whole lot of people to bay for his blood rather than examine the Indian team, and more particularly, its captain Kohli’s leadership, under the microscope.
No, one is not asking for Shastri to slam the captain or his players in public. But he could at least desist from singing praise of a team which has not made capital of the big moments it created. His efforts in the background, away from the arc-lights, must be seen as helping the players realise their potential and improve their performance rather than seek consolation in some statistics.
Yes, the time has come for him to show that he would no longer be seen as someone who echoes the thoughts of the captain, especially on tour when the national selection committee is not around to make tough decisions. He must find ways to convince the captain to make better choices in the playing XI.
Of course, cricket is a captain’s sport and it is the skipper who almost always makes the choice of personnel he wants to lead in a match. But the coach cannot be seen as a passive by-stander if the Kohli has been making a few wrong choices, some of which seem to have had a direct impact on the flow of Tests in England.
Even if we accept that the chief coach has only to oversee preparations of the individuals and the team, Shastri will concede that some work remains to be done on that front. The manner in which Indian batsman failed to curb their instinct to play shots square of the wicket – the flick or the steer – and fell early in the innings on many an occasion suggests that they were truly undercooked.
There are lessons to be learnt from the tactical errors that crept into India’s game at crucial junctures in the series in England. It is crucial that Shastri plays a more pro-active role in the evolution of Kohli as a captain. India’s selectors have invested much in the team’s best batsman’s leadership, but they will expect a bit more from the skipper.
We have already seen Shastri ask for a couple of warm-up games on the tour of Australia. And that could well mark the start of a new version of the chief coach. All said and done, he was acknowledged as one of the best brains in the game during his playing days. Too many close games have been lost for him not to let the best coaching qualities in him surface.
He may not be in a position to teach any of the Indian Test squad’s players much but even he will concede that he must get the players to start thinking a bit more about thinking. For, that is what the best team environments do around the world. And if he succeeds in getting the players to apply their minds to the challenges they face in their workspaces, he will have sparked a turnaround.
If the Indian team, ranked as the best in the world (on the basis of its earlier performances), continues to find satisfaction in merely creating opportunities rather than drive such an advantage home, it will not be long before even the powers-that-be in the Board of Control for Cricket in India, his employer, start demanding substantial progress in that direction.
There must be a hint in what remarkable leader Nelson Mandela once famously said in an altogether different context. “Follow your heart but take your head along with you,” he said. At the moment, nobody will understand the import of this statement better than the Indian cricket team’s head coach, Shastri.
The time is at hand for him to rise as team coach, prodding each player to become a better version of himself and the captain Kohli to become a greater leader and strategist. All said and done, nobody loves a challenge more than Ravi Shastri himself. It can only be hoped that he picks up the gauntlet and plays the catalyst in the team’s turnaround as a winning unit overseas.