Year Ender 2021: The Legacy of Ravi Shastri

Ravi Shastri was the only playing member of the World Cup 1983 winning squad deeply linked to international cricket in 2021, in the role of Team India chief coach. Teammates from Kapil Devils, as the sensational side which turned the cricket world upside down came to be called, were appointed as coaches (Kapil Dev, Madan Lal) or batting consultant (Sunil Gavaskar) to the national team. He outscored them in terms of duration and delivery, overseeing the senior squad (five years over two tenures as team director and chief coach).

The left-arm spinner turned batting all-rounder took over in 2017 from Anil Kumble, remained firmly in charge till Rahul Dravid agreed to step into the hot seat this year. Determination was his middle name as a Test and ODI performer and this quality was visible in the India Test team, especially the players’ group to Australia for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy this year. As one of the upcoming players on the ’83 squad, the highpoint for Shastri was a three-wicket haul in 5.1 overs against West Indies in the opener at Manchester. Roger Binny also nabbed three wickets of top order batsmen.

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India defended 262 against all expectations, winning by 34 runs to start the campaign with a bang. The movie on India’s historic triumph, 83, does not feature Shastri, whose part in a huge team effort was overshadowed by others in a team of daredevils. When the defending champion was shocked the second time in the same tournament. Defending 183 against a batting line-up of heavyweights, the wicket-takers were swing bowler Balwinder Sandhu, seamers Mohinder Amarnath, Binny. Kapil

got only one wicket, but had read the conditions well. Kirti Azad’s off-cutters got the nod as the only slow bowling option, instead of Shastri seen in the Lord’s balcony as captain Kapil lifted the Prudential Cup. As the final match was telecast live, the message reverberated around the cricket world about India’s arrival as an exciting bunch of ODI achievers Two years after writing history at Lord’s, India under Sunil Gavaskar stamped the seal of supremacy in limited-overs cricket by winning the Benson & Hedges Cup. Kapil was around to lead the bowling, Shastri had blossomed by then into a very effective batting all-rounder.

From a small part in the 1983 squad, he returned to India wearing the Champion of Champions tag at the Benson & Hedges Cup, as another major title came India’s way in 1985. Shastri’s career-high came as the Test team coach, years later in 2020-21 season, overseeing one of the most famous series win overseas over Australia. The manner in which India defied the odds to clinch the Border-Gavaskar Trophy received acclaim across the cricketing world and was hailed by the chief coach as being on par with the 1983 win against all odds. No one expected India to win the Prudential Cup, winning a Test series

in Australia against a ferocious bowling attack was supposed to be beyond India’s reach. If ever a movie is made on the remarkable Indian squad Down Under in 2020-21, led from the front by stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane showing the way to a bunch of fighters, Shastri the character in the dressing room will have a major behind-the-scenes role, for marshalling the resources after captain Virat Kohli returned home for personal reasons.

Viewed against the difficulties of playing inside a bio-bubble amidst Covid restrictions, the Team India coaching staff delivered a remarkable performance in player management. Shastri cannot be kept away from the spotlight for keeping morale high, arming the newcomers to international cricket with the self-belief to maintain high standards. The chief coach’s skill in choosing the right words to motivate a shattered squad after the crushing first Test defeat at Adelaide will make the movie riveting.

Shastri’s reference to Cheteshwar Pujara as the Ultimate Warrior during a post-series dressing room chat is now famous video footage. Another incident that came out from the Indian camp was the coach urging his players to wear 36 (India total at Adelaide) as a badge, a motivational tool to remind themselves as to the distance to be travelled for the side to wipe out the memory of that collapse in the first Test. Supreme self-belief and the confidence to perform beyond capabilities was displayed by every member under an inspirational Kapil Dev in 1983.

These qualities formed the cornerstone of Shastri’s career in ODIs, Tests as well and got reflected in his coaching. Test debutants and those making only their second Test appearance against Australia performed as if they belonged to that arena where even established players from other nations touring Australia get overawed. India Up Down Under real-life scenarios are more fascinating than fiction.

There is recorded footage to replicate scenes, unfolding like a film script packed with drama and action. From the Adelaide collapse to the Gabba high of chasing down 329 on day five of the fourth Test. India’s fightback, in a bruising, thrilling battle against aggressive Australia at full strength, was typical of Shastri’s grit during playing days, able to deliver performances as per the situation. Ready to bat in any position the captain asked, bowl within limitations, the gritty all-rounder kept stretching the boundaries. He translated the same dogged determination into players on a tour etched forever in the minds of cricket watchers.

With the Aussies at the receiving end of aggression, reeling from treatment meted out by them on numerous visiting teams, like England for example in the Ashes, a movie featuring surprise heroes may find an audience not only in India, everywhere Test cricket at its fiercest finds a resonation. A snarling Kohli, a composed Rahane, Pujara taking body blows but standing strong at the crease, R Ashwin battling back pain to draw the Sydney Test in partnership with brave Hanumna Vihari, the possibilities are endless.

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The chief coach’s handling of an explosive Rishabh Pant, stylish Shubman Gill, bold Washington Sundar, aggressive Mohammed Siraj, fighter Shardul Thakur is worth exploring from the mind-game element in a cricket story. Sport psychology, sporting achievement in cricket’s toughest format happened. Great captains need not be effective coaches always, despite the head start by way of achievement and experience.

Team India under Ravi Shastri on the tour of Australia this year deserves a deeper look for the management lessons relevant to the times. The current England team, jittery and suffering out there in huge stadiums, for example, can benefit from knowing what words were spoken in the dressing room, resulting in injury-hit India under Ajinkya Rahane’s captaincy recovered from 0-1 down to sneak home 2-1 at full-time.

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