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Ravi Shastri starts new innings in Sri Lanka in an unfamiliar position

Despite the presence of many big name players in the series against Sri Lanka, newly appointed India coach Ravi Shastri will be under scrutiny.

cricket Updated: Jul 23, 2017 23:49 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Hindustan Times, Galle
Ravi Shastri,India vs Sri Lanka,India National Cricket Team
Ravi Shastri was the coach when India beat Sri Lanka 2-1 away in the 2015 Test series.(PTI)

Despite the presence of all big names in the Indian team, it is fair to say head coach Ravi Shastri will attract equal attention during the upcoming series in Sri Lanka.

He will have the confidence of having done well with the Indian team in the same role earlier. The point of interest is he returns in slightly different circumstances this time. As in 2007, after the early World Cup exit, when he took over in 2014, the team was down in the dumps. It was a nothing-to-lose situation, for the only way was up.

Following India’s disastrous 2007 World Cup campaign in which they were eliminated in the first round, Shastri was appointed manager for the Bangladesh tour that followed. Similarly in 2014, after being routed in the Test series in England, a desperate Indian cricket board got him in. Both times, he was seen as the saviour.

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However, this time he has taken over the reins of a team in top gear. The No 1 ranked side has been playing dream cricket under Anil Kumble.

As Shastri returns to the country of his first overseas success as coach, it will bring a different kind of pressure. He will have to match his own standard as well that set during Kumble’s tenure.

Even though the former India all-rounder has publicly dismissed talk of added pressure, comparisons with the team’s displays last year will be inevitable.

In Sri Lanka, it will be about living up to expectations. In the 2015 series here, a close fight was expected given that India had not beaten Sri Lanka at home for over decades.

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This time they will go into the series as clear favourites. Sri Lanka have almost been reduced to minnows, and narrowly escaped the ignominy of losing to Zimbabwe in a Test a few days ago.

The hosts are in a rebuilding phase and short on experience. They have been depleted further for the first Test due to the illness of skipper Dinesh Chandimal, down with pneumonia.

Anything less than complete domination by India in the three Tests, which starts in Galle on Wednesday, will put some pressure on the chief coach.

Aware of the challenge that awaits them against Shastri’s men, the home team is doing what is in its hands – maintain focus and prepare as best as they can. It was evident in their body language and workout at the Galle International Stadium on Sunday morning. After a gruelling five-day game in the previous week, usually home teams would take a Sunday off to spend time with family and friends.

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But, all members of the Sri Lankan team reached the venue a day ahead of the tourists and while the Indian team was travelling from Colombo to Galle, a three-hour drive, the hosts took part in an intensive training session under blazing sun at the picturesque ground.

They started with a warm-up session involving a football game before honing their catching and fielding skills. Stand-in skipper Rangana Herath and fast bowling coach, Chaminda Vaas, then led the long net session held at the centre square.

Herath was operating in the spin bowlers’ net and Vaas was marshalling the fast bowlers’ preparation. In between, the Sri Lanka batsmen used the practice facilities next to the main pavilion for throw downs.

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Shastri’s strength as coach is his ability to motivate the troops; he is especially good when the morale is low. Here, he will have to ensure his wards maintain intensity against a weaker opponent.

May be he can use the unpredictable conditions at the Galle Stadium as a motivational tool, for it’s a venue where the elements do play a big part and matches usually shift in one session. Shastri saw it first hand the last time when in 2015, India lost the game in the final phase of play after dominating right through.

First Published: Jul 23, 2017 22:21 IST