Right now it is hard to find an Indian cricket fan who is not baffled and frustrated with Ravi Shastri. Not just fans but media from around the world would also criticize the current India head coach. Shastri’s been arrogant, as well as ignorant of the facts in the post-match press conferences.
After India lost the series 4-1 to England, he recently said that this Indian team is the best touring side in last 15-20 years, which left many spectators as well as some of the greats of the game, like Sunil Gavaskar and Saurav Ganguly, advising him to check his facts before making any inane remarks.
It was the summer of 2011 in England when India’s overseas woes started and they also lost the prestigious no.1 Test Ranking in the same series, following a 4-0 whitewash by England. Since then, India lost three-Test series in England (including the ongoing series), twice in Australia, twice in South Africa and once in New Zealand. In the last eight years, India have only managed to win three Tests in SENA countries. Two of which came against England in 2014 and 2018 and one dead rubber win against South Africa in 2018.
The Ravi Shastri Saga
Before analyzing Ravi Shastri’s coaching style and his role & impact on the team, let’s review the facts. Shastri recently claimed that the current team is the best touring side, by saying that they won nine matches overseas and three series in the last three years and no other Indian team in the past achieved as much in such short span of time. But the fact is that all these ‘overseas’ series victories he mentioned came against Sri Lanka and West Indies. And it’s a well-known fact that the current Sri Lanka and West Indian teams are nowhere near to the teams they used to have in the past when the likes of Lara, Sangakkara, Mahela, Murali and Chanderpaul etc blessed the game.
Also, between 2007 to 2011, Indian team won overseas test series in England and New Zealand, drew in South Africa and lost a hard fought 4-Test-Series in Australia 2-1, during which the infamous Sydney-gate took place. And the teams of All SENA countries were way stronger then, than they are now, when some of the greatest players of all time like Ponting, Kallis, Gilchrist, Flintoff were all playing. So only Ravi Shastri knows how the current Indian team is the best touring side!
So the question is, what’s Ravi Shastri’s role as a head coach? When Shastri was appointed as coach and asked how is he looking forward to taking this opportunity, he mentioned:
“My role is secondary, to just guide and mentor. At this level, you can’t coach the players, only help them to bring together all the small, small pieces so that they can play with freedom and fulfill their true potential.”
The man himself saying there is nothing much to do at this level as coaching, maybe he was hinting at his technical inabilities to coach some world class players. Perhaps right now a player like Virat Kohli may not need a coach, but what about the other batters who are finding it hard to get their best in overseas conditions and need someone to lift them up and tell them where it’s actually going technically wrong for them.
We have seen Murali Vijay getting dropped from the team midway during the England series. The clear reason of his recent fallout in England and South Africa was attempting to play the balls outside off stump which he usually known to leave alone. You would be forgiven to think it is the job of a coach to sit with him and have a word with him and say here is the area he is going wrong.
At the same time the batting coach Sanjay Bangar’s role also comes under scrutiny! Hardik Pandya’s head doesn’t fall straight but sideways in his bowling action, and Wasim Akram keeps repeating it every time he is in the commentary box that how important a ‘still head’ position matters for a fast bowler. What’s India’s bowling coach doing then? India kept dropping sitters in the slip cordon. And here comes the specialist fielding coach’s job results!
I remember Garry Kirsten personally working out in the nets with Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina to work on their weakness against short balls. Footage of him giving throwdowns to the batsmen with tennis rackets can be easily found on the internet. Anyhow, everyone has their own methods but at the end of the day, your job is to produce results which the current Indian coaching staff has failed at terribly. Surprisingly, India has currently Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Bangar, Bharat Arun, and R Sreedhar as Head Coach, specialist batting coach, bowling coach and fielding coach respectively. To make matters worse the injury management issue is as bad as the on-field performance.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is India’s premier bowler across formats. But he was playing the ODI games even when he was not hundred percent, despite having an all-important five-test series around the corner. Shastri boasts about making this team as good travelers but to accompany his words the things which are getting done behind the scenes are not really in tandem with his words.
The Leadership Group
A leadership group is nothing but a group of captain, coach and a bunch of senior and experienced players. In the past, we have seen MS Dhoni getting a handful of advice from seniors like Sachin, Dravid, Zaheer or Sehwag at times. But who is there for Kohli to accompany him when if he gets frustrated in the middle at some point of time? No matter how sharp and shrewd a captain is, still an observation or a piece of advice from a player can come out to be a match-changing moment in the game.
Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane are India’s most experienced players after Kohli in the current team. But it never seems that they are part of any decision making and how can they be? Both Pujara and Rahane were dropped from the first eleven against England and South Africa. When they are not even sure about their places in the team how can they be the advisors to the captain! It’s all Kohli and the head coach who knows nothing but is a yesman to the captain and keeps boasting about the ‘achievements’ to the media.
Barring Kohli, each and every player of the current Indian team has been dropped from the playing XI for at least once in last one year. And when a player is not even sure about his place in the team he starts thinking to first cement that and stops playing his natural game, what he is actually best at. And in this way, the player does more harm to himself than good. And it’s really surprising to know that the captain of no.1 Test team doesn’t even know who his best XI players are. Virat Kohli has changed his playing XI in each of the last 44 test matches.
The Kumble fall-out
After Anil Kumble resigned from his post as India Coach clearly stating that the captain had reservations about his methods as coach. It was inevitable that Ravi Shastri will take over as the head coach. Initially, along with Shastri, Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan were appointed as India’s batting and bowling consultants for overseas tours and these appointments were lauded by everyone in India. Rahul Dravid also agreed to take the job happily. But mysteriously after talks with Ravi Shastri, both Dravid and Zaheer denied taking the jobs. Maybe they got to know about Shastri’s methods and didn’t want themselves to be among unnecessary controversies. It could have been pretty helpful to Indian team had Dravid and Zaheer been with them on overseas tours, but, if only the ‘mysterious talk’ hadn’t happened.
After all of this, it’s absolutely very very clear that Ravi Shastri’s role as India head coach is questionable. He hasn’t been able to make the team win despite having such a strong squad. A squad with a pool of pace bowlers who all are able to take 20 wickets, a bunch of talented batsmen, a mix of young and experienced bunch of players in all departments. While Ravi Shastri himself clearly mentioned that his aim is to make this team win abroad, he has miserably failed to do so.
Sachin Tendulkar, in his biography book ‘Playing It My Way’ wrote about how Greg Chappel used to lead the team from the team bus to hotel in case India has won and would be the last one to come out of the bus in case of India’s defeat. Greg Chappel was a limelight hungry man and always wanted to be the talk of the town. He put his ego always ahead of the team’s interest. Right now, Ravi Shastri’s case can’t exactly be called as the same but when it comes to seeking the limelight and appear with arrogance in the media, he falls on the same page.
Only time will tell how long Ravi Shastri and the rest of coaching staff will survive at their respective jobs but it has also been seen earlier with Indian cricket that when a coach tries to be the big mouth leader and an attention seeking main man, he doesn’t usually succeed in his job. After all, who can forget Greg Chappell Chapter of Indian Cricket!