I remember a conversation with a friend soon after the ugly and very public spat between Sourav Ganguly and Ravi Shastri when the latter was overlooked and Anil Kumble was appointed as Coach of the Indian Cricket Team. My friend commented that Dada’s “Dadagiri” had clearly got the better of Ravi Shastri. I told him then that Sourav may have won the battle but Shastri would win the war – Apparently those were prophetic words.
However, I am not in the least happy on being proved right. This is one time I would have gladly chosen to have been proved wrong. Ravi Shastri’s appointment as a coach is not just a regressive step but is also a return to the old order where Indian Cricket was all about intrigue, political machinations, partisanship, and coteries where the bootlickers were rewarded and the truly deserving were sidelined.
One of the first decisions by Ravi Shastri as coach was to set aside the recommendation of the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) comprising three former cricketing icons of the game -Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, and VVS Laxman who had wanted Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan as batting and bowling coaches respectively. Ravi Shastri had apparently insisted that he would have the final say on who would be his “assistants” and has gone for lesser known names Bharat Arun (bowling coach), Sanjay Bangar (assistant/batting coach), and R Sridhar (fielding coach).
It may not be wrong to postulate that Ravi Shastri chose these cricketers instead of Rahul and Zaheer perhaps because he thought they would be more “pliable” and their international records less intimidating, giving him in the bargain a free hand to do as he pleases with Kohli in tow.
Ravi Shastri a middling player at best who came into the Indian team as a slow left-arm orthodox bowler later transformed himself into a batting all-rounder who could bat more than a bit and bowl less than a bit has always been someone who has punched way above his weight class. His record both in Tests and ODIs is a tribute not to his talent but to his dour determination and fighting qualities. It is however important to note that Ravi Shastri’s record outshines both Sanjay Bangar’s and Bharat Arun’s by a good country mile while paradoxically at the same time paling into insignificance when measured against that of Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan.
Sanjay Bangar and Bharat Arun have been competent cricketers and successful coaches but their records simply don’t match up to those of Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan two legends of the game. (See Table-1 and Table-2 below for a comparative career-summary of the cricketers being discussed). Note that I have not included R. Sridhar’s career record in the table as he has not played any international game. His first-class career spans just 35 matches.
Therefore me alluding to Shastri choosing these players because of their relatively lesser International records is an argument that has some substance and traction to it.
Then again, the argument could well be made (and is actually being made) that you don’t need to be International cricketers to be good coaches but in this present case this line is easily countered by:
- No matter what one may say, the fact is at the International level it does help to have coaches who have played and enjoyed success consistently against all opposition and at different theaters of action – there is no substitute for the subtle nuances and insights that come from actual experience of having played at a level and against opposition that is much superior to the domestic and first-class level.
- Both Zaheer and Rahul have proven coaching and mentoring credentials – the former was the “go-to-guy” for every young bowler inducted into the Indian team even during his playing days and the latter has had a very successful stint as coach of the India-A and under-19 teams. Players of the caliber of Ajinkya Rahane have openly credited Rahul for their rise at the International level.
Baichung Bhutia arguably the most famous Indian footballer of all time, makes this very same nuanced point when he observes : “It is not necessary that a good player can be a good coach. (But) Of course, it always helps if you have played the game at a decent level…”
Table 1: Batting & Fielding Statistics
Table 2: Bowling Statistics
Now, why am I presenting all this data? Shouldn’t “soft skills” like class, flair, elegance, fighting-spirit etc. matter? Of course they do, but when a cricketer’s (past or present) career needs to be assessed then it is the numbers that tell the story, maybe not the full story but surely at least the essence.
The fact is that Ravi Shastri by deliberately ignoring Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan and plumping for his “loyalists” is safeguarding his own personal interests and definitely not the interests of Indian cricket. It must also be said that Kohli by his silent acquiescence has not covered himself in glory.
One question still remains unanswered – The buzz is that it was Kohli who had wanted Ravi Shastri as coach. Given that Kohli has not denied this story one must presume this to be true. The question therefore is why he is going along with something that is clearly not good for Indian cricket? Well, the answer to that clearly lies in the fact that Ravi Shastri and Kohli are mirror images of each other when it comes to attitude, arrogance, and temperament. If Shastri was the Kohli of the 1980s then Kohli is the Shastri of 2017. It is this that has helped build and sustain the bond between these two cricketers. The fact that both like and enjoy the “highlife” has obviously added to the bonding and camaraderie.
In the days of black-and-white television I was witness to Ravi Shastri throwing down his batting gear and walking up to a crowd that was trolling him for slow batting (trolling in the real sense not that of the 140 characters and online variety.) and confronting them as if he was more important than the game as well as the fans.
One can only conclude that Virat Kohli and perhaps a core-group of Kohli loyalists within the team clearly prefer Ravi Shastri who will “party” with the boys and give them “freedom” unlike “Professor” Anil Kumble who believed in doing “things right” and the “right things”. After all discipline and professionalism is only for the lesser mortals. Stars can’t be burdened with irksome stuff like that.
If there is still any lingering doubt as to what this charade is all about then one needs to only read a small part of what our new fielding coach R. Sridhar had to say about the “coaching role” , “…It’s important to be receptive. You have to yield to the demands of the group and you have to make sure that each guy is in the best possible space…What is important to be a good leader is to be a good follower…” (Emphases added) – This gem from the fielding coach sums up this sordid L’affaire #Kumble-Kohli-Shastri. Cricket and cricket administration in India has been pushed back by at least two decades and Kohli and Shastri will be primarily responsible for this but then is someone listening or for that matter anyone listening?