The decision to give Ravi Shastri a second term as the coach was always a no-brainer especially after Virat Kohli’s public endorsement of him prior to the team’s departure to West Indies. Mike Hesson, former New Zealand coach, was the strongest contender but he would have been a left-field choice and Indian cricket probably isn’t quite ready for one. The real question is what drives the pair’s partnership? What makes them tick and beat in unison? We don’t have to second-guess as Kohli had made it clear last November just before the tour of Australia.
Asked about the perception that Shastri is the coach because he is a ‘yes man’ to him, Kohli said he was baffled. “It’s the most bizarre thing that I have heard – about him saying yes all the time. I don’t think there is anyone who has said no to me more than him in Indian cricket, honestly. Because he is the one guy I can speak to and get an honest opinion and he will tell me something that doesn’t need to be done.
The contribution he has made is that making people believe that they belong to this level, because at a time when we all went through the difficult period, 2014 for me, and for a lot of other players Shikhar Dhawan in 2015 , to be able to come out of that shell, I can vouch for that, to bring the best out of the players, he is the most important factor,” Kohli had said.
It wasn’t a surprise then that Kapil Dev, a member of Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) along with Anshuman Gaekwad and Shanta Rangaswamy, mentioned “communication” thrice as Shastri’s strong point in their press conference to announce him as the coach. Though Kapil did say that the CAC didn’t take Kohli’s opinion before they arrived at their decision. “No. If we had taken his decision, then we would have had to take the entire team’s as well. We didn’t ask anyone.”
Though India didn’t win the world cup and stumbled in a Test series in England – a tour that could have gone much better had they got their team combinations and decisions at the toss right. However, they did win a historic Test series in Australia, apart from winning Tests in England and South Africa. They reached the semi-final of the world cup though considering the strong bowling attack, it has to be seen as par performance only. The injury to Shikar Dhawan hurt the team but the lack of plan B, and in particular the middle-order problems, could have been ironed out before the showpiece tournament. Overall, despite some stereotyping and public perceptions of him, Shastri’s record as a coach has been pretty good.
In Shastri’s tenure as a coach, India won 11 Tests, lost 7 with three no-results. They won 45 out of 63 ODIs, with 2 ties and one no-result. In T20s, they won 25 out of 37 games with 1 no-result.
The road ahead for Shastri is clear: If his first stint was about communication, conflict-resolution, team-building, and fine-tuning the approach and attitude in overseas tours, the second could well be about improving the strategical thinking of the team. By the end of that tenure, Kohli had shown improvements as a captain as far as on-field decision making went.
By Shastri’s own admission, Kohli is growing in tactical acumen and it’s a work in progress. Now, it’s time for Shastri the coach to build on that front.
The challenge ahead for him is to accelerate Kohli’s growth as a captain and in particular, help the captain make better strategic decisions — like team compositions and the frequent rotation policy that hasn’t helped in Tests. In limited-overs cricket, the middle-order muddle should be solved – critics might say it should never been done by now, before the world cup, but that’s water under the bridge now. Shastri gets a fresh stint, a second chance, to put right those nagging problems that held back the team from achieving their full potential.
The Indian cricket board had given the CAC five parameters to aid their call: Coaching philosophy, Experience of coaching, Achievements in coaching, Communication, and Knowledge of modern-coaching tools. The five candidates (Phil Simmons pulled out in the end) were ranked in order of priority: 1. Ravi Shastri 2. Mike Hesson 3. Tom Moody. The other two applicants were Robin Singh and Lalchand Rajput.
Gaekwad summed up the rationale behind the selection: “I think basically being the coach, current coach, knowing the boys well, knowing the problems well in the team, what needs to be done I think he is well versed with entire system, while the others were not. They probably had to start (afresh), you know, so we were trying to find what could be like — Indian cricket if they were appointed as head coach, so somebody knows the system and knows the players very well, can communicate well, I think he has the advantage.”
Conflict resolution also must have played a big part in Shastri’s selection. Last time around, he had to step in after the relationship between Kohli and the previous coach Anil Kumble had gone sour. This time, just before his renewal, he had to smoothen out the fallout after reports that alleged a rift between Kohli and Sharma. Kohli and Shastri had already said that the reported rift was a figment of imagination but Shastri still had to smoothen out any awkwardness that might have arisen after the reports.
CAC wants say in support staff appointment
Meanwhile, the three CAC members have requested BCCI to allow them to have their say, along with the selection committee, to choose the Indian team support staff. Dev said that he had written email to BCCI on this that CAC should be part of that appointment process as well. As per Lodha Committee recommendation, the head coach is appointed by CAC whereas senior selection committee will appoint support staff for the Indian team. “There should not be a communication gap, their strength and our strength is the same for the team and we want to make sure that team should get benefited and that’s what we wanted and if we can help them (selection committee) …” Dev said.