21 February 1981 marks the debut of a man who went on to become Indian cricket’s go-to guy. Yes, I’m talking about the inimitable Ravi Shastri. Whether it be opening the batting against the terrific Pakistani and West Indian fast bowlers in the 1980s or being appointed Team Director in 2014 in the aftermath of a disastrous Test Series versus England, Ravi Shastri has shown the willingness and ability to take on monumental challenges.
During his playing days, Shastri was a player with limited talent. But what he lacked in talent, he made up with determination and hard work. A slow left orthodox spinner and a doughty right-handed batsman, Shastri was a product of Mumbai’s maidans which were famous for producing khadoos (hard-nosed) cricketers.
And that khadoos attitude was ingrained in Shastri who when batting, would get under the skin of the bowlers with his stubborn refusal to get out. While doing so there would be occasions when his scoring rate would dip, resulting in the crowd losing patience and heckling him at times. Ravi Shastri retired from international cricket in 1992 after an eventful career spanning 11 years.
He played one more season of domestic cricket when he led a Mumbai team comprised of rising stars to victory in the Ranji Trophy. An astute reader of the game, I believe that Shastri would have become an amazing captain for Team India. However, his tendency to lose form at critical junctures and his alleged off field exploits meant that he led India in only one Test match in 1988.
Shastri was first appointed as the Interim Manager in 2007 for the Tour of Bangladesh. Team morale was at its lowest as they had just returned home early after being knocked out in the First Round of the recently concluded World Cup. But Shastri guided the team admirably and India won a hard-fought Test and ODI series. The second time when Shastri entered the Dressing Room was in 2014 as Team Director.
The Indian team was floundering under Duncan Fletcher’s lackadaisical tenure as Head Coach and Shastri brought a new spark of life into the side and a sense of accountability which seemed to be lacking during that phase. Shastri was officially appointed as Head Coach in 2017 after Anil Kumble stepped down after the loss to Pakistan in the Champions Trophy Final. Both the Captain Virat and Coach Shastri are self-confident and fearless personalities and this is evident in the performances of Team India since the last 3 years.
However, despite all the positives, there are some areas which need improvement. For example, the lack of a stable Number 4 batsman cost India dearly in the 2019 World Cup and losses to South Africa (1-2) in 2018 and England (1- 4) away from home have caused some to criticise the duo. Shastri’s tenure as Head Coach ends in 2021 after the T20 World Cup in India. I hope India wins that tournament and gives the man once called the “Champions of Champions” a fitting farewell. Here’s wishing you a happy 58th Shaz! Cheers!