SHINY, HAPPY SHAS­TRI Mock him as much you want, but to sug­gest that he lacks the nous to be In­dia’s head coach says more about you than him

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Dileep Premachan­dran

If you came of age in the 1990s and you like your pop mu­sic, the chances are that you’re fa­mil­iar with REM’s Shiny Happy Peo­ple, from Out of Time (1991). It was a cloy­ing but catchy num­ber, which reached No.10 in the US. Far su­pe­rior songs from the same al­bum, like Near Wild Heaven and Half a World Away, didn’t get any­thing like the same air­play.

Shiny Happy Peo­ple was REM’s last Top 10 hit in the US, but Michael Stipe, the lead singer-lyri­cist, loathed it to such an ex­tent that the band hardly ever sang it live. Nor did it make their Great­est Hits al­bum. When­ever I’m forced to lis­ten to its re­lent­lessly up­beat tune and inane lyrics, I think of Ravi Shas­tri. Not be­cause I find him mind­less, but be­cause his re­lent­less pos­i­tiv­ity af­ter the cruel man­ner in which his ca­reer drew to a close al­ways per­plexed me.

Shas­tri was the per­pet­u­ally stoned guy you knew in col­lege, for whom life was al­ways ‘all good’ or ‘peace out’. Un­til and un­less you made an ef­fort to know him, you never saw be­yond the clichés and the bom­bast. In sports tele­vi­sion’s nascent years in In­dia, he cre­ated a p e r s o na for him­self, and de­spite some­times be­ing as jar­ring as the suit with 1980s

shoul­der pads, —AP he found a way to stay rel­e­vant. When cricket moved into a new age with the In­dian Premier League, he fronted that rev­o­lu­tion as well.

But now, that mask which has been in place for a nearly a quar­ter-cen­tury is slip­ping. Shas­tri’s re­sponses to sev­eral of the ques­tions posed to him in the build-up to the sec­ond Test in Colombo were un­usu­ally bel­liger­ent, in­dica­tive of a man feel­ing the strain. Or some­one who can no longer be bothered to play along. And why should he? The me­dia nar­ra­tive was shaped long be­fore Shas­tri even as­sumed the job. Anil Kum­ble, who in ad­di­tion to be­ing In­dia’s great­est match­win­ner had presided over an un­prece­dented run of suc­cess at home, was viewed as the departing war­rior, a man of prin­ci­ples let down by his wards. Shas­tri was the court jester, there for the amuse­ment of Vi­rat Kohli, the cap­tain in­tent on shap­ing a team in his im­age.

You won’t have seen too many vari­a­tions from that script in the last few weeks. And you can un­der­stand Shas­tri be­ing in­censed by that. The YouTube gen­er­a­tion may only as­so­ciate him with Tracer Bul­lets and ‘Dhoni fin­ishes off in style!’, but Kum­ble, for one, could tell you what a se­ri­ous crick­eter he was.

Shas­tri made two Test hun­dreds in Kum­ble’s de­but se­ries, the tour of Eng­land in 1990. No other In­dian opener — not Su­nil Gavaskar, or Viren­der Se­hwag — has achieved such a feat. No In­dian open­ing bat can match the 206 Shas­tri made in Aus­tralia in Shane Warne’s de­but Test (Syd­ney, 1992). And not too many, any­where in the world, can boast of a hun­dred against Mal­col m Mar­shall , Curtly Am­brose, Court­ney Walsh and Ian Bishop on a Kens­ing­ton Oval pitch that was greased light­ning. You can mock his com­men­tary and the po­si­tions he has taken on var­i­ous is­sues af­fect­ing In­dian cricket, but to sug­gest that he some­how lacks the nous or ‘qual­i­fi­ca­tions’ to be in the hot seat says more about you than it does about him. For that mat­ter, Kum­ble had no qual­i­fi­ca­tions ei­ther, and that didn’t stop In­dia win­ning 12 of 17 Tests last sea­son.

As for the ex­act na­ture of his role and what he brings to the team, those are ques­tions that only those within the in­ner sanc­tum can an­swer. A cou­ple of months ago, Tony Adams, who cap­tained Ar­se­nal to two League-and-Cup dou­bles, sug­gested that Arsene Wenger ‘couldn’t coach his way out of a pa­per bag’. The same Wenger has presided over the most suc­cess­ful pe­riod in the club’s his­tory.

It doesn’t mat­ter what you or I think of Shas­tri. What mat­ters is what Kohli and his team think. And if scenes from the dress­ing room bal­cony are any guide, there are few frowns on those faces. Hav­ing been on the tour of Eng­land in 2014, when Shas­tri was ap­pointed team di­rec­tor, I can tell you t h e r e were many. If any­thing, they r e s e mbl e d the shell­shock vic­tims. Whether at beer o’clock or not, Shas­tri helped put smiles back on those faces, and was in­te­gral to the rise up the r a n k i n g s . No amount of re­vi­sion­ism can change that. But then, cer­tain facts don’t re­ally fit the nar­ra­tive.

The YouTube gen­er­a­tion may only as­so­ciate Shas­tri with Tracer Bul­lets, but Kum­ble, for one, could tell you what a se­ri­ous crick­eter he was

Ravi Shas­tri (right) and Vi­rat Kohli share a light mo­ment

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.