A few days ago, Tiger Pataudi had described Ravi Shastri as excellent material for coaching as ''he is a strong man, a good cricketer and is following the game very closely.'' A tremendous compliment from Tiger, a man who is not too liberal while praising anybody unless he feels one genuinely deserves it.
The BCCI must take Shastri's agreeing to a stopgap arrangement as cricket manager as a golden opportunity to convince him to take up the job of the coach on a long-term basis. That will be a big service to the Indian cricket at this critical juncture. Indeed, there could not be a better man than Shastri right now. And there are many reasons to support this view.
Nation is bigger than TV channels: Remember how the man on the street had celebrated when Ravi bagged the Man of the Tournament in the Benson and Hedges World Championship! How the nation eulogised the man for each of his accomplishment starting from his very first match against New Zealand as an 18-year-old.
<b1>Though the nation never expected Ravi to pay back post-retirement, it is time for him to reciprocate all the noble gestures. The money, which BCCI will pay to the coach, will be considerably less than what he will get as a TV analyst, but still it is substantial. A sum, along with perks, that other coaches in the World will die for!
Excellent analyst: The way Shastri has laboured and picked up the nuances of TV analysis is commendable. At times the words he uses may sound clichéd, but no doubting his brain when he dissects which way the game is heading for. Is not that what India needs from its coach?
And with the kind of analysis he does, Shastri will never lack a TV job post-coaching!
Proud to be an Indian: As an Indian, Shastri's appointment will bury any debate on 'foreign versus Indian' to the benefit of the Indian cricket. Besides, while his English skills will make him a truly international commodity, Shastri's Hindi will allow him to understand the lingo, as well as fear and concerns of most Indian players better than foreign coaches. Communication gap will be a passé.
Age on Shastri's side: When most Indian players wanted Moody instead of Greg in 2005, the reason was they wanted someone younger to share their concerns. At 45, Shastri is not exactly too old to do that. He is just five year older than Moody and, if you compare with Greg, 13 years younger!
Shastri will be more like a brother figure, rather than a father figure to the team members. Someone with whom you can share occasional jokes as well.
A strong character: Shastri played and flourished under many different skippers right from Gavaskar to Azhar. He has manfully taken the ups and downs of his career in its stride. Even when his slow batting at times got the disapproval of the public, he continued in gladiatorial style, never letting his emotions to get the better of his temperament. Shastri does have a super-cool head on his shoulders.
Opener: Considering that India has been grappling with opening problems both in Tests and ODIs, Shastri, with his excellent record as opener, will fit the bill adequately. Having opened abroad and in India, and with distinction, he can very well understand the successes and the failures of the opening pair. Despite not being a regular opener, his experience and average of 44 from 26 Test innings shows his resolve, which can help the Indian opening pair, especially any makeshift opener.
Captain: Shastri is one of the best captains India never had. Seen as a successor to Gavaskar and Kapil from his very early days, he got a chance to captain India in just one test against the West Indies. Even though the test is remembered more for Hirwani's 16 wickets than Shastri's cool demeanor and ability to rally everybody along, which had also contributed to the formidable West Indies' humiliation by 255 runs. Though as ODI captain, he won just four against seven losses, he never allowed the pressure to affect his batting, averaging 44 as against his career average of 29.
Now he will have a chance to steer the boat of the Indian team once again and his adventurism will be a perfect foil to the conservatism of Rahul Dravid.
Additional coaching Staff: The presence of Venkatesh Prasad as bowling coach and Robin Singh as fielding coach is a belated and welcome step. It will definitely unburden Shastri considerably if he is convinced to stay for long. That is one advantage Greg Chappell or John Wright would have loved to have.
No one's man: The best thing about Shastri is that he can give you the impression that he belongs to you, without exactly belonging to any of the camps. The positive offshoot would be -- he would be able to dispassionately analyse what Team India needs while getting inputs (without fear or favour). He is the kind who can get you 'rested' from the Playing Eleven when you are out of form, and still share a drink.
So it makes sense for the BCCI to go all out to persuade Shastri to become Team India's coach on a long-term basis. He may, or may not succeed. But he does look to be the best possible man right now.