Typical Shastri leads with poetry like a tracer bullet into the microphone:
What he said:
“Past is history, future is a mystery.”
Ravi Shastri takes no prisoners when queried if past Indian captains can be attributed credit for India’s historic 2-1 series win in Australia.
What he really meant:
“I’m the rhyme master and I’m here to rap. Give me a beat. Tap. Tap. Tap.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“I was once Champion of Champions. Will they now title me Coach of Coaches?”
Ravi Shastri traces a bullet.
What he said:
Ravi Shastri, the Indian head coach, can’t stop gushing about latest boy sensation, Prithvi Shaw, and his exhilarating debut against the West Indies at home.
What he really meant:
“Shaw bats like a dream. He’s a kaleidoscope of the bright colours of Tendulkar, Sehwag and Brian Lara. He’s my rainbow.”
What he definitely didn’t:
“Why did I omit Viv Richards in this comparison? Kohli wouldn’t permit me. That’s why. He insists that sobriquet’s exclusive to him.”
“Youngsters watching the IPL might give up on idle or dosa for breakfast. Just eat Uthappa, and you might smash them a long way.”
Anil Kumble is the newly appointed Team India coach.
That must be the most important job in the country after the Prime Minister’s, right?
Wrong, dead wrong.
Sanjay Manjrekar , in his column for The Week, describes the job thus:
“’Tell me, who is this guy with the Indian team, is he a player?’
‘No, he does not step onto the field.’
‘Is he a selector, does he pick the players?’
‘No, he does not, the captain and selectors do that.’
‘Okay, then, does he make the critical game-changing decisions on the field, with regard to bowling changes, field setting, batting order, etc?’
‘Nope, that again is done by the captain.’
There you go, that is the actual reality of an Indian coach and his position within the team. Hence the media excitement, every time, around the appointment of an Indian coach, baffles me.
In contrast, when a far more important and influential position outside the players is filled, it’s only duly noted by the media. That is the chief selector’s position.”
This is not to deride or belittle Anil Kumble’s credentials in any way.
Much has been said and written about his stellar cricketing record, his courage facing the West Indian quicks and his mental strength,
Kumble recognises the above reality and claims that he’ll be more of an ‘elder brother’ to the side.
“I certainly believe that as a coach of a young team, you need to be hands-on and you need to really get your hands dirty as well – train with them, be a part of their training. And be with them more like an elder brother, in every aspect, not just on the field, but also off it. That’s something I will be focusing on.”
Manjrekar concludes his piece thus:
“In Indian cricket, the captain and a couple of senior players basically chart the destiny of the Indian team. The selectors have an important role to play in this journey. If the captain is able, there is nothing wrong with this kind of culture; many great teams have been built like this.
So what an Indian coach really does is facilitate the needs of the captain and the core group and try and keep them in good spirits.
The coaches that actually make a difference to Indian cricket are those that coached players like Tendulkar, Dravid, and others, when they were kids. The grassroots level coaches.”
Kumble made a three-year-plan presentation to the Cricket Advisory Committee but has been appointed for only a year.
Ravi Shastri’s stint as Team Director and the results under his tutelage paved the way for the selection of an Indian coach.
Can Kumble prove as adept as John Wright or Gary Kirsten in handling this young side?
India play 13 Tests at home and his tenure includes the Champions Trophy.
‘Jumbo’ does not have a long rope and there is speculation that he was not an unanimous choice.
Kumble has no formal coaching experience but then neither had Shastri.
That appears to have made the difference since he was not in the initial shortlist.
The CAC selected Kumble—possibly—because he is a much younger candidate and can keep pace with the youngsters in the side. John Wright and Gary Kirsten were not too long retired when they took over the reins of the Indian side.
A younger person can be more hands-on; Kumble certainly believes he can be.
Is hands-on what the job requires? Depends on how you define it. Kirsten felt that it played an important role while he was coach. He used to spend hours bouncing balls at the senior players. His ability to handle fragile super-egos cannot be underestimated.
Kirsten’s right if we are go by what Manjrekar writes. And he is an expert.
Players like Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli prefer to consult their old coaches on technical aspects of their skills.
Is it less likely that it’s not the same for the current batch of players? Ajinkya Rahane and Robin Uthappa have retained Pravin Amre as their go-to person for improving their willow skills.
It does appear that what a coach brings to the side is intangible but the results are visible and rewarded or penalised with much more alacrity.
Simply put, the coach is the fall guy should anything go wrong.
Trust Ravi Shastri to look upon the toss-or-not debate from his own unique perspective as a commentator, “I’ll have no job left if the toss is done away with.”
That’s the least of his worries considering he’s the front-runner to be the next Team India coach.
It was Ricky Ponting who set the ball rolling with his suggestion that the toss be done away with and the visiting captain chooses to bat or field.
He was seconded by his former skipper Steve Waugh and Michael Holding.
The underlying theme was that home sides would stop preparing pitches that suited them hopefully resulting in more sporting contests.
Would it eliminate ‘hometown’ advantage? Michael Holding felt not.
The English broke with tradition and effected the desired change in their County Championship this year.
The visiting county is given the option of bowling first—should they refuse, the toss is taken as normal and the winning skipper decides what to do, take strike or bowl.
Robert Key, ECB cricket committee member, had this to say:
“My original view was that we should have tougher penalties for poor pitches. But that is so hard to police. It just becomes a minefield. But what I still think is that the stigma over spinning pitches has to end. If we see 15 wickets fall to seam bowling on the first day of a game, nobody bats an eye. But if the ball turns on day one, people start to worry. That has to stop.”
The above is probably manna to the ears of BCCI chieftains and the Indian team’s think-tank given that the Nagpur Test wicket for the match against South Africa was sanctioned by the ICC.
“The cricket committee had a two-day meeting and 90% of it was spent talking about pitches. We went through all the options. We talked about everything you have seen suggested on social media. And in the end everyone there agreed that this was the way to go. The rules governing the use of the heavy roller are remaining the same.
We want to stop counties producing pitches that just suit their seamers. We want to take that luxury away from them and instead get them to produce pitches that result in a more even battle between bat and ball and require pace and spin bowlers as well as seamers.
I’m not surprised by the negative reactions. They are the same reactions I had when I first heard the suggestion. But it was not a decision taken lightly, and I’d just say to people: let’s try it and see what happens. Our original suggestion to the ECB board was to try this for a year in Division Two. It was their idea to try it in Division One as well.
We’re not suddenly going to see five more spinners. We can’t expect a miracle cure. But we might see a situation where, instead of spinners bowling 20% of overs in the Championship, they might bowl 30%.”
Andrew Gale, Yorkshire skipper, disagreed:
“It’s a decision that has come straight after a Test series defeat in the UAE, which has brought the problems to everyone’s attention. But we don’t want subcontinent-paced wickets in England. That is not what people want to watch. If we had gone to Australia and won this close season, I doubt that this decision would have happened.
Obviously the rule has been brought in to encourage spinners and because of a recognition that the wickets have become too seamer-friendly. The intention is a good one – I know that. But if wickets are that bad, why haven’t points been docked? Fifteen-plus wickets have fallen many times on the first day and it has repeatedly been put down to bad batting. I can see Keysie’s point about something needing to be done, but why haven’t pitch inspectors done their job properly? It comes down to people being strong. “
“I am a traditionalist. I love Championship cricket. The toss has existed since the beginning of time. Why keep messing with the game? It’s too complicated for some people as it is.”
Nathan Leamon, England’s performance analyst, wrote a piece for the NightWatchman questioning whether doing away with the toss would achieve the desired results.
The reasons listed were:
Cricket is now played on covered pitches I.e. they are no longer exposed to the ravages of inclement weather. In the era of uncovered pitches, batting first made sense and was definitely advantageous.
Is winning the toss an additional asset—a twelfth man?
Gaurav Sood and Derek Willis answer the above query in an analytical piece on Cricinfo.
“After analysing data from more than 44,000 cricket matches across formats, however, we find that there is generally just a small – though material – advantage of winning the toss. The benefit varies widely, across formats, conditions, and depending on how closely matched the teams are.
We find that over all those matches, the team that wins the toss has won the match 2.8% more often. That small advantage increases for one-day matches and decreases for T20 contests. For day-night ODI and List A matches, the advantage is greater still, with the side winning the toss winning nearly 6% more games.
Winning the toss convey an advantage of 2.6% in first-class and Test matches, where pitches can deteriorate, giving the team that bats last a tougher challenge. But the largest boost appears to be in one-day matches, where teams that win the toss win the match 3.3% more often. “
What’s even more striking is the following observation:
“Using ICC monthly rankings for international sides, we looked at whether winning the toss made a difference when teams were closely matched or at opposite ends of the rankings. When closely matched teams play, winning the toss has a larger impact on the probability of winning. As expected, the impact of winning the toss was less when a clearly better side played a weaker one. “
“Whether due to cold weather or grassy pitches that can make batting difficult, teams that won the toss in April matches in England lost nearly 5% more often than they won. In every other month, the toss winner was more likely to win the match. Perhaps that alone will encourage visiting captains to take the field first, at least at the start of the English season.”
What he said:
“When the moment is important, Ravi Shastri is the last one to back away. So if you’re asking if my hat is in the ring, it is in there. Maybe three hats!”
Ravi Shastri’s tenure as Team India director has ended. He and his team— Sanjay Bangar, Bharat Arun and R Sridhar—have done a creditable job following Duncan Fletcher’s departure.
When asked if he’d be up for the job of the new team coach, the former left-arm spinner and right-hand bat responded:
“I have had a discussion much earlier with the Board on as to where things should go, and how. At the end of the day, they are my employers. They are the ones who are going to make the decision. So whatever I have grasped in these 18 months, I have let them know.
See, it is a very challenging job. It has been a very enjoyable job. It is a very important moment in Indian cricket.When the moment is important, Ravi Shastri is the last one to back away. So if you’re asking if my hat is in the ring, it is in there. Maybe three hats!”
Talking about Team India’s performance, Shastri is against change for its own sake.
“Look at our performances in the last 18 months. We are ranked 2, 2 and 1 in the three formats. And that can’t happen if you have people within the system who are not interested in the game. If, by any chance, it was the other way around, you would have heard from me straight.”
On how he handled coming into the fray as Team Director:
“I want to cut across barriers and come straight to the point, which is communication and trust. For me, that was the first nail I had to put in. I always believed they were a terrific side. They were low on confidence and they were probably not approaching the game in the right way, the way it should be played when you consider the talent they have.
Those were the two areas you had to focus on, and you kept things simple. You said, let’s hit those areas first, let’s get the trust, let’s get the communication going. Let’s get the work ethic better, where there’s no shortcut. It might take time, it might take three to four months before we are back to winning ways. And then you know things will fall in place. But what I saw was a transformation that was quite immediate. I didn’t expect that. But then again, it’s why I jumped in, because I knew there was huge talent there.”
What he really meant:
“I’m all for continuing as team coach. My record speaks for myself. And I’m always up for the challenge. It’s certainly something I enjoy doing more than commentating!”
What he definitely didn’t:
“Speaking of myself in the third person, now, that’s something I never did on the microphone. And I’m all for three hats: Commentator, Manager and Team Coach. To hell with conflict of interest , I’m Superman!”
“Winning is a habit. So when you are playing good cricket, it is important to keep that habit going. Focus on your strength, focus on your work ethics and make sure that you are not complacent.”
Is Ravi Shastri transforming into an MS Dhoni clone?
Sample his recent statements about Team India’s performance Down Under:
Whether Indian batsmen were too focused on milestones:
“If they were focusing on milestones, Virat Kohli wouldn’t have been the fastest to 7000 runs; he would have taken another 100 games. If that was the case, Rohit Sharma would not be having two double hundreds, and a score of 264.”
On the bowling performance:
“Finishing touch is better bowling, and being more consistent as a bowling unit. As MS mentioned, there were too many easy boundaries. It is not like the batsmen had to earn it, they were given. That should be eliminated. Even if you cut that by 60%, we will have tighter games. Those are the areas. Attention to basics. If we do that right, who knows…
What you want to see is the bowlers learning from what has happened in the first three games. If that happens, that will be the biggest plus irrespective of the result. That is what I said last year when we played cricket in Australia. We might have lost the series 2-0, but deep inside I knew the way the boys played there was only going to be improvement.
It is a young side, there have been three debutants, we have been plagued by injuries. No excuses, I am not giving any excuses here, but it is an opportunity for the youngsters to learn. In Australia nothing comes easy. It’s one of the hardest places to play. You are playing against the world champions. The fact that you are competing, and they have competed right through this one-day series, is very good. “
On whether the team needs a psychotherapist:
“I am the shrink, don’t worry about that.As far as extra bowlers are concerned, yes we do need (them). We need bench strength. If you look at the last six days, we have been in three time zones. It is not often you go through that.
You play in Perth, get on a flight to Brisbane where the time is different, then to Melbourne where the time is different. All in a matter of six days. When you consider all that, I think the boys have done extremely well.
When it comes to bowling, what I would suggest in the future to the BCCI is to have extra players. Instead of 15 on a tour like this, probably 16 would be advisable. Somewhere in the subcontinent 15 is fine. Here, when you travel so far, and suddenly you get injuries, that is something I will suggest. At least 7-8 bowlers have to be there with the amount of cricket.”
Compare these statements against MSD’s:
“It is not about the leader. I am captain at the moment and somebody else will come later. It is more important to see the areas we are lacking, the departments which have to improve when it comes to shorter formats. We don’t have a seaming all rounder so let’s not even go to that topic. If you see this series it is a relatively inexperienced bowling lineup. Ishant Sharma has played a lot of international cricket but he is not someone who has been consistently part of the format. Umesh Yadav has been on and off and there are others who have made their debuts here. So we have to assess right now is how good the individuals are and what are they doing and what’s their rate of development.”
Don’t the duo sound about the same?
Is this the gung-ho Ravi Shastri we are all accustomed to?
Contrast these statements against those he made last year when India toured Sri Lanka.
When Team India suffered a shock defeat in the first Test in Galle under Virat Kohli:
“Let’s hope lightning doesn’t strike twice, because we will not change our style of play. Our mindset will be the same. But to close the deal you have to walk the distance and we made that mistake in the first Test. They are getting closer and for this team, it is a case of getting one on board. Then it will be the start of many. It was not a question of buckling under pressure. They go out with intent. The endeavour of this team is to play fearless cricket that comes with mindset. These boys have enough talent. I am sure they must have thought after the match why I didn’t play this shot, why I didn’t play in this manner.”
On changing their losing away record:
“You don’t come to a cricket ground to draw a match so you play a brand of cricket where you look to take the game forward and you look to take 20 wickets, that is paramount. You have got to think how you can take 20 wickets to take the game forward and win the game.”
While the Indian batting has delivered and in spades, the bowling has left a lot to be desired.
But has the Indian side really played fearless cricket in the past four games?
Can Ravi Shastri respond?
Blame the pitch, blame the curator, blame your bowlers, blame your batsmen, blame your running between wickets, blame your fielders but never ever, ever blame the opposition for out-batting, out-bowling and out-playing your side through the most part of the series.
Ravi Shastri allegedly had harsh words for Sudhir Naik, the Wankhede curator.
He expressed his displeasure after the South Africans posted a mammoth total on a benign wicket all but wrapping up the series before the Indians came out to bat.
His behaviour is to be deplored.
Curators are responsible for preparing pitches keeping in mind soil and weather conditions.
Indian skippers and support staff seem to believe that they ought to always be given the extra edge, not by taking scheduling and conditions into account, but based on how they have fared in the series up to that point.
Naik claims that he was told to prepare a turning wicket just two days before the game—an impossibility.
It is time that Indian team management admitted that they are no longer bully boys on sub-continental wickets given that their South African, Australian, English and Kiwi counterparts are now accustomed both to the heat and the batting conditions courtesy the IPL.
They would be better off choosing the best bowlers for all conditions rather than ‘horses for courses’.
The BCCI should also spell out specific guidelines in their newly drafted conflict of interest rules that would prevent such a situation recurring in the future.
Curators’ decisions must be independent of the Indian team’s vagaries and fortunes.
Therein lies the best interests of Indian cricket.
The question then is: Are these the best players in the country at the moment? If not, where are the ones who deserve to be in the side? Why have they been overlooked?
Does position matter?
Coaches don’t seem to think so but players certainly do.
I know for certain—when playing my brand of gully cricket—I’d never open. Simply because I never felt comfortable facing the bowling right off, maybe because I wanted to have a dekko at the opposition first, or maybe simply there’d always be someone clamouring, “Hurry up and score some runs and get out; I want to bat too.”
That’s beside the point.
There’s a comfort factor associated with a player’s favoured position. That’s his lucky number.
Or that’s what he’s been accustomed to playing at or where for a long, long time. To move him around is a travesty of natural justice—to him.
Team Director, Ravi Shastri, the man who began at No.11 and batted his way up to No.1, does not believe that Indian batsmen can own a spot in the line-up. He feels that there’s a crying need for horses for courses. A player’s position will depend on the quality of the opposition.
“In this team, no one owns a batting position. It all depends on the situation. We will play horses for courses and see what the situation and the opposition demands. Accordingly, we will see what the best batting position in the side is for each batsman against that particular outfit and seeing the state of the series.”
Flexibility is the demanded norm. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara responded splendidly scoring centuries at No.3 and No.1 respectively.
The ploy worked.
The original strategy, though, of having Rohit Sharma come in at No.3 has fallen flat.
Sharma oozes talent but he needs the extra protection and a long rope for him to succeed. There’s little doubt about his calibre. He needs some time to come into his own. His lazy elegance is his undoing, much like David Gower, but both batters would defiantly deny any such claims vigorously.
(The most technically adept player—after your openers, of course—should be No.3. In this side, it appears to fall upon either Pujara, Kohli or Rahane to fill this spot. Sharma is probably best at No. 4 or 5. In my opinion, you cannot have Rohit batting at that spot when the wicket’s a belter and then push him back when seamers make the ball talk and he fails. It’s just not fair to the others in the side.)
Former India hockey coach Arjun Halappa is on the players’ side when it comes to switching them around.
Paul Van Ass’ implementation of ‘Total Hockey’ is criticised as being too ‘harsh’.
“It’s very tough. When I started playing under (Jose) Brasa, I was a right winger and I was played as a central midfielder. I got really irritated at first, but gradually when I started to understand what the team wanted, I adjusted. But everyone can’t adjust.
I think it was too harsh on the part of Paul Van Ass to make those position changes straightaway in a big tournament (Hockey World League Semifinals). It could’ve been done gradually. Europeans have their own thinking, and they think they are always doing the right thing. But when they come to India, they have to understand the culture, language and players. You can’t just walk in and get things done the way you like.”
It differs from player to player. Every player needs to feel secure that he will not lose out when he’s moved to unfamiliar territory and where he may not immediately perform as expected. They deserve to be given some time to prepare and adjust. The challenge is mental. Visualization exercises with the team psychologist are not a bad idea.
Results will come when players are happy. Unhappy players are a dampener on performance and results. Process must take precedence.