What’s Eating Ravi Shastri?
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Winning cricket teams, similarly, are usually all alike, bubbling over with that ephemeral thing called team spirit, while losing teams squabble over whose fault it is: captain, coach, selectors, the system. Ravi Shastri is usually an incredibly positive person. Whether it comes to his own cricket, his role as a media professional and later his positions as manager, director of cricket and head coach, Shastri always sees the cup as half full. When he spoke to the media on the sidelines of India’s practice session at the Sinhalese Sports Club ground on Tuesday, however, there was a distinct edge to the tone and tenor of his answers. This was not a day for tracer bullets and cricket being the winner. This was a day when the head coach was protecting his team from some perceived enemy. As though under siege, Shastri answered even the most straightforward questions with something more than firmness.
There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance, a tricky tightrope that separates self-belief from boorishness, and while you expect young cricketers to end up on both sides of the divide, especially in the heat of the moment, unprovoked aggression from a coach is not an everyday occurrence.
With a platoon of support staff in the dressing-room, Shastri was asked what exactly his role was. “My role is to be in charge of the entire support staff and to make sure that we get the boys in some great mental space to go out and express themselves with nothing else on their minds but to go out and play a brand of cricket which you have seen India play over the last three years — that is positive and fearless.” So far so good. When asked how he does this, Shastri shot back: “That is a skill, that is why I am here (in the dressing-room) and you are there (in the press box).” When Shastri was asked what changes he had brought to the dressing-room atmosphere, he was once again tetchy. “I wasn’t there for the last 12 months so I on what he would do to avoid being in a Kumble-like situation
don’t know. But when I got in it was pretty much from where I left. I didn’t see any change, the nucleus of the team is pretty much the same and I know what to expect from them, they know what to expect from me. There is no need of reinventing the wheel or anything of that sort.” And, when someone inquired what Shastri would do to ensure he was not overbearing, something Anil Kumble was accused of, the answer was laced with sarcasm. “When you have been around the game for 37 years, you probably learnt a little bit. So that experience is very handy for me in knowing exactly how to deal with the players,” said Shastri, who added that the time he spent away from the team was almost erased from his mind. “I don’t carry any baggage. For me it was like walking into the dressing room as I had left it. Nothing had changed and no special buttons I had to press. It was just that one play button and off you went,” said Shastri, who added that he did not need to work any miracles. “I don’t know what it was like 10 months ago. As far as I am concerned I just had to walk in. That was enough.”
Hit the play button? Just walk in? Surely coaching the Indian cricket team is not as easy as that? “I have been manager, director, now I am head coach. It’s the same role. Absolutely the same role. So there is nothing that I have to change. The fact that you played the game and watched the game for long periods of time without a break does help. So you know what’s contemporary and what’s happening at the moment and you relate with people in that fashion,” explained Shastri.
“I don’t think at this level coaching is needed. At this level it is all about fine tuning and getting the blokes in good mental space to go out and play the game. They know they have reached here because they are good. At times you might need to just fine tune them a bit because the amount of cricket that’s being played you might just get into the odd bad habit without realising it. That’s where the experience of having played, probably having watched you can pick it up and pass the message.” Whatever happy messaging is happening within the confines of the dressingroom, it certainly did not seem to extend from the coach to the outside world.
I don’t carry any baggage. For me it was like walking into the dressing room as I had left it. Nothing had changed and no special buttons I had to press. It was just that one play button and off you went. I don’t know what it was like 10 months ago. As far as I am concerned I just had to walk in. That was enough