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 the case for Shastri to continue in his current role. To read the opposing viewpoint, click here.
Cheteshwar Pujara has just scored a brilliant hundred and started to up the tempo with some delightful strokes. After yet another spanking drive, Sky Sports commentator Ian Ward raises the most obvious question “How did India leave Pujara out of the first Test?”. On air, alongside him, Michael Holding unravels the mystery by stating how the India coach, Ravi Shastri wanted Pujara to rectify a slight technical blemish in the nets before picking him.
It might seem inconceivable from the outside that Shastri was paying such close attention to a player at a net session. After all, the Indian coach has been blamed to a large extent for the scoreline that read 4-1 in England’s favour. Various memes have circulated on social media with Shastri photographed standing idle, hands on hips, dark glasses and his Indian training shirt stretched over his tummy.
But there is more to Shastri, the coach, that what is perceived outside. A large proportion of his criticism has come due to his boastful statement of ‘best team in 15 years‘. But that is how much faith he has in his team members and players adore him for that reason. One has to be extremely shallow and antagonistic towards Shastri to believe that he was the primary reason India lost the series 4-1.
After all, Virat Kohli had vouched strongly for Shastri to be the head coach near a year ago. It is obvious there is no other person to strike the right balance with the captain than Shastri. The ostentatious proclamation might be a sign of his overflowing ego, but this is a man that takes enormous pride and makes the effort to ensure he can get the best out of the team.
Back to Pujara and his technical issue. The Indian No 3 is a great example of Shastri’s dedication and keenness to overcome mechanical flaws to ensure the players are confident heading into a match. Those in England would have noticed that throughout the five-Test series Shastri was as assertive as any member of the coaching staff or player.
At Lords, he stood beside the nets observing at close quarters the impact point of the batsmen. He was then conferring with the individuals and batting coach, Sanjay Bangar, to ensure the batsmen were learning to play the ball late. In Southampton, he got the group of bowlers together in the nets and made them practice their batting alongside Kohli for two hours. Shastri’s message was blunt: He wanted his tail-end batsmen to add crucial runs.
During practice sessions Shastri would move from one net to another, constantly interacting with players. Occasionally, a conversation could be heard where he would ask a player why he was adapting particular methodologies, before giving his own advice. Remember it was Shastri that had advised Kohli to bat outside his crease in Australia in 2014, a recommendation that took Kohli’s game to a new level. All these instances are just small examples, but such citing debunks the theory that Shastri does ‘nothing’ and is clueless about technical side of the game.
More importantly, one has to embrace the fact that despite being on the wrong side of the scoreboard, there has been no disharmony in the group of players. This further illustrates that there is still a positive vibe in the team. Creating the right environment, after all, is one of the major roles of a head coach.
Shastri was ridiculed when he stated, “you won’t find this team thrown in the towel” but that fact is true. In the past, many teams have succumbed meekly after trailing two nil or lost the series. But given this team had fought till the end must mean there is a still an optimistic approach in the dressing room and the coach deserves the credit for it.
< e many still upset at the fact that Anil Kumble was sacked as a coach. But cricket is a team sport and if there is a disparity between a coach and a captain there is a high chance of dissonance in the playing unit. For now, at least India has a coach and a captain that are on the same page. History tells us in a coach and captain conflicts it will always be the captain that will prevail. Graeme Smith and Ray Jennings, Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores, Michael Clarke and Micky Arthur, Greg Chappell and Sourav Ganguly are just a few that strikeout.
At the end of the day, cricket is not football where the coach devises all the tactics. It is still largely up to the captain. Shastri can add his two cents’ worth, but he cannot coach individuals once they take guard, nor can he bat, bowl or field for them. The best coaches in the business are ones that can get the best out of each player. It is difficult to argue that Shastri is not doing either. The coach cannot be held accountable for loose shots or poor balls. Yes, one can argue that he could have tinkered with the selection, but it is the captain that leads the team out on the field, so it is his responsibility, not the coaches.
After the Lord’s humiliation, Shastri had told a senior journalist “Just watch what happens once we score 300”. The result was for all to see. This is a coach that knows the capabilities of his team. You have to be naive to believe the series scoreline gave a real indication of the contest. It was during the crucial periods that the bowlers failed to execute efficiently. Shastri, as the head coach, has copped the entire backlash and in a way, the players have escaped. But he is comfortable with it and hence he is still the right man for the job. The players still respect him and speak to close in the inner circle and they will admit that on the tour of England, Shastri has had a stern word or two.
Going forward, Shastri is still the best man for the job. One just has to observe him closely to think otherwise.