Most Indians who know their cricket know Shastri was and is many things India’s Test players need to be.
Who needs a coach?
Not Shane Warne, for one. We all know what the Australian superstar thinks of coaches. But not everyone is Warne. And some people do need to be coached. So who are these people?
In order to understand who needs a coach and who doesn’t one needs to look at what a coach does.
For starters, I think we can all agree that a coach does different things for different people at different stages of the life cycle. And here please do permit me the luxury of sharing a personal story to illustrate what I mean.
I’m a coach. No, not a cricket coach; I’m a creative writing coach. I coach people to write and think differently. While doing so, I also end up having to coach people who don’t think they need to think differently. And that’s when I learn about the kind of coach (and coaching) different people need. Or, in some cases, don’t.
Sure, trying to coach people creative writing is not the same as coaching a cricket team. That said, I do believe it’s not all that different. Why so, you ask?
Put very simply, a coach’s job is to advise people. In my experience, grown-ups don’t think they need to be advised. In fact, I am inclined to think most grown-ups dislike being advised.
Oh, and if these grown-ups happen to be superstars, they tend to be positively resistant to the idea of taking advice from others.
That’s why, I have come to believe that coaching (creative writing or anything else) is most effective during the early stages of a person’s development; at least, when it comes to teaching them new things. Fact of the matter is you really can’t teach an old dog too many new tricks.
Most Test players are not quite old dogs, but they certainly like to think they are near-finished products. They need someone who can teach them to think differently, someone who can show them that an old dog can be taught new things by an even older dog.
Test players, India’s in particular, could do with a guide who can teach them how to play the ‘mind game’ better. In my opinion, Ravi Shastri is the right man to do this particular job.
Thanks to the Indian Premier League (IPL), most of India’s Test players are too accomplished (or should that be arrogant?) to feel they can be coached by an avuncular sage like, say, Duncan Fletcher. But, thanks to India’s abysmal Test record overseas, India’s Test players are also diffident enough to know they need someone like Shastri.
Shastri is street-smart. Shastri is aggressive. Shastri is combative. Shastri was one of India’s most un-Indian players back in the day when he represented India. Most Indians who know their cricket know Shastri was and is many things India’s Test players need to be.
Despite being closely tied to the powers-that-be in Indian cricket, Shastri is, in more ways than one, one of the outliers of Indian cricket. India’s problems in the Test arena demand an unorthodox solution.
Fletcher was a safe choice as coach. His style of coaching didn’t hurt the Indian team, but neither did it deliver what was required. Fletcher may have helped certain Indian players with specific technical aspects of their game, but his skills as a motivator weren’t much to write home about. One could, by and large, say the same about Dhoni’s ability to motivate as well. This conservative approach adopted by Fletcher and Dhoni is reflected in the disastrous results the Indian Test team achieved under their watch.
The conservatives will tell you Virat Kohli should be tamed and needs a sage-like figure to rein him in. I disagree. I, on the other hand, am convinced Kohli needs to be unleashed like a guided missile by someone who is an older version of Kohli. Shastri is that person. Shastri, I believe, can help Kohli become a fitter, stronger, and more hardworking version of Sourav Ganguly. When that happens, we can look at someone like Rahul Dravid (not Sourav Ganguly) to coach India.
Which begs the question: Why not Sourav Ganguly? That’s an argument for another time.
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