Drafted in to guide a demoralised India team on the 2014 England tour, the going has been good for Ravi Shastri as India coach (officially designated team director).
It’s been a phase when the new generation of batsmen has grown into a formidable unit in world cricket. His biggest challenge, though, will be the World T20 starting at home next month. Can Shastri do a Gary Kirsten? HT caught up with the ex-India all-rounder.
How do you look at the build-up to the World T20?
Absolutely satisfied, we needed to play some T20 cricket and we’ve done that successfully. You can’t be in a better frame of mind than we are going into the Asia Cup and World Cup.
What areas are you are happy with and where do you need to improve?
We should take one game at a time; the idea is to keep the winning habit. And at the same time see if there are opportunities to try out players as well, in tune for a match, where an important player can come in at any stage. But that will only be decided once we know how we are performing in the tournament.
How did things turn around in the T20s in Australia? Is the team peaking too early?
That we will find out. What I can tell people is, when you are losing, you are criticised; when you are winning, you’re peaking too early. So, let them decide, they are the experts.
How will you tackle the pressure of playing at home?
The challenge will be not to think too much, just take one game at a time and execute your duties. Play the kind of cricket you are playing. You don’t have to do anything different because you are playing the World Cup.
You had a no pressure job as commentator. What challenge has coaching thrown up?
When you did commentary, you had a mike in hand, and when you played, you had a bat or ball in hand. Here, you have nothing in your hand, nothing in your control when the boys step out. So, you have to prepare them, keep them in a frame of mind to go out and play a brand of cricket that is positive and fearless.
It’s been very enjoyable. I have got a fabulous bunch of players and support staff. The results speak for themselves. I have always liked to take a challenge head on. In whatever job you do, you are always rated by the challenges you take up.
How have you seen Virat, Rohit and Dhawan grow as batsmen?
The best thing I like about our batting is they play freely now, and express themselves. Their mind is very clear; they know what their roles are as batsmen and bowlers. That makes a big difference. They know it’s not about individuals, it’s about team performance. Not just these three, we have Ajinkya Rahane who has done exceedingly well in all forms of the game. Rohit is a massive talent, on his day he is as good as anyone in the world. Virat is a spunky, dominant, in-your-face kind of player. Shikhar is explosive, he can do the job Viru used to do. He is destructive and being a left-hander makes a big difference.
Rahane is a superb all-round player who relies on timing and placement, as you saw in the two hundreds he got against South Africa in Delhi.
Virat spoke about your technical inputs. You stand next to the nets giving specific inputs…
At that level, I don’t like to interfere with their techniques too much. If there is some fine-tuning to be done, either with their pick-up, footwork or the way they are standing, that is when I step in. If something is wrong, I will go and tell them if I know how it can be rectified. Otherwise, I don’t bother because there is no point telling a guy what you are doing is wrong unless you have the answer.
We have three coaches (B Arun, Sanjay Bangar and R Sridhar) who are doing a fabulous job, to whom people don’t give credit, who have come through the ranks. They know their job and should be given credit. If they were foreigners, people would have put them on top of the tree and not allowed to come down for what they have done in the past 18 months. And we have gone and played in all conditions. It’s not been a bed of roses, they have been scrutinised every week by the media.
Dhoni’s form in the last few series has been up and down?
People forget it is (No 6) one of the toughest positions to bat. India should feel lucky they have had someone doing that job for so many years and like a champion. That’s why when he gets the flak, I get really annoyed because he deserves respect for what he has contributed to Indian cricket.
Don’t mess around with legends and champions. I want to see how many batsmen have batted at No 6 for the years he has batted and contributed, that consistently with that strike rate and won matches and not done it when it didn’t matter.
Your win-at-all-costs philosophy has drawn criticism that it is being attempted at the cost of entertainment.
This has to be the most entertaining team in world cricket. That’s why when I was asked by Channel Nine why so many people come to watch this team, I said, ‘they have won the respect, and they entertain; they are not scared of losing, and when you are not scared of losing, that’s when the entertainment comes’. So, whoever is saying it hasn’t held a bat in his hands.
The question is related to the kind of pitches we prepared against South Africa.
What wickets? They could have played their game. Rahane didn’t need to play that way. He played all the shots in the book. If a particular opposition wants to play in a certain manner you should ask them this question, not us. We got 250-plus and 300-plus in both the innings. So, who are the entertainers and who are not, you should go and find out. My side took 20 wickets, got 300 runs, and at a good run rate. What else do you want?
Your image is that you are arrogant.
People who know me know what I am all about. I can’t go around telling people. They are the right people to ask. I am not someone to judge myself, I have been consistent with the way I have been and nothing has changed from day one, since I became part of Indian cricket. I don’t know what people think. If they think otherwise, be my guest; it’s your problem, not mine.
A top BCCI official has said India will have a full-time coach after World T20? Will he be working under you?
My job is till the end of the World Cup. I’m an employee of the BCCI, and they have every right to decide what they want to do after the World Cup. I’m just focused on one game at a time till the World Cup gets over and then whatever has to happen will happen.
During the Fab Four era, we never thought we will have a batting line-up even close to them. Do you feel these guys have the potential of being spoken of in the same breath, in one-day cricket?
Absolutely, already they have. They have already proved their credentials and they are here to stay. I know it’s very difficult to emulate that, they were all tremendous players, but we are lucky we got a bunch which has the potential to be as good if not better.
Do you see them having a similar aura in Test cricket as well?
Why not? Tell me, which team went to Australia and got 400 in each innings, in the last 30 years? That was Test cricket.
The WT20 is being seen as the ideal platform for Dhoni to sign off.
Never fool around with champions. When someone has done it so well for so long, they have a right to decide. You saw how he left Test cricket, when no one expected. So what makes you think he will hang on for the sake of it? If he believes he is good, he will stay, if he believes his time is up, he will go, that much I can assure you of MS Dhoni.