There are a lot of perceptions about Ravi Shastri, the coach. Is he just all bluster? Do young players like him only because he is like them? In a chat last year, just before he was replaced, Shastri had shared with The Indian Express his philosophy of coaching — that he is ready to crack the whip at times, but the players like him because he is upfront.
It’s been said that your personality suits the current lot of young Indian cricketers.
It’s not a question of suiting. I have said that and people misunderstand. I play to win, boss. When you play to win, results are important but I am not worried about the results if I want the team to play in a certain way. When I took over the job, I felt these guys weren’t enjoying themselves. It was too rigid — their methods of playing. It was not the way I believe an Indian team should be playing. They were not prepared to take the game forward. They were not prepared to put their heads on the line where you play to win. Because when you think in that fashion, then you take the game forward. Like the chase in Adelaide (during the 2014-15 Test series in Australia).
Like the way you played in Australia. Every first innings, you got 400 runs. You played with a mindset to take it forward. You might have lost. The score-line might have read 2-0. But I wasn’t worried because I knew that this will make them. You were 0-1 down in Sri Lanka. But you still thought you could win. And you played in that fashion. It’s very important that that’s the case.
So when you took over, you told them about the rigidity that you had seen?
Ekdum straight. I told them brutally, honestly. So they knew that here’s a guy who will not say anything behind our backs. It will be straight up on our face. Someone we can trust. There’s no iske peeche jaake kuch bola, uske peeche. Muh pe bolega. No games. That’s why you will see in this team, there are no groups. There’s no agenda. There’s no iske peeche wo hai, dekh usko khila raha hai. All that you won’t see. And I told them the only reason I am here is because I believe in you guys. I believe in you guys that you are a bloody terrific team that can play and think differently.
Were you surprised that this generation of Indians would be rigid ?
The biggest problem with people, individuals or teams — in our lives also — is insecurity. How can you conquer insecurity? By being fearless. If you are not insecure, that’s when you can be fearless. So I tell these guys play a brand of cricket where you are not scared of losing, which means agar mujhe maarna hai, dil se maaro. Don’t think (what) if I get out. Get out, no matter. Go and work harder with your thought process and your striking. When you are insecure, you are the most dangerous individual. You are just spreading negative energy. That is the worst. That is something this team has learnt — to be fearless.
How did you change it?
You change it by changing the thinking. Think positively. Think to win. Think of taking the game away. Think and focus more on your strengths. At the moment, you are thinking about all other things. I told them straightaway. You have to tell them they are a better team than what they think they are. And I am sitting in front of you giving this speech that I believe in you. Otherwise I wouldn’t be anywhere near you (wouldn’t have taken up this job). And you want them to enjoy themselves. Once I step on to the field, I want to beat the opposition. Then it doesn’t matter to me what the conditions are. People are making a lot of noise about conditions na. It’s the same way this team will step on a field whether it is Australia, England, Sri Lanka, wherever in the future. They will step on to the field not thinking, ‘arre how many runs will we get? Who’s bowling?’ No, no.
How can we beat the opposition?
That is the change. How you are prepared for it, then. When you step there, we are playing there to win this game. We don’t care about the conditions. As opposed to that period where you were thinking, Arey yaar grass hai, woh yeh daal raha hai, woh daal raha hai, woh unka batsman form mein hai. It’s all the other way. Winning is last, competing is last. Here, you are catching the bull. Usko mein maarne wala hoon [expletive], that’s the attitude.
You used the same words with the players?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t take a backward step. Look in the eye. When you play sport, you have to be able to compete against anyone. With my talent, I did. I never once took a backward step. And when you look at the skill in this team. When they are prepared to think and play like that, it is you guys sitting outside who will love watching them play. Two, the level of fielding. Where there was no cutting corners. You had to work your ass off to be one of the best fielding sides. If you can do that, you will be in the game. If you think you are going to get an inch, you won’t get a centimetre.
One thing I have told them. No excuses. And they know it. No excuses whatsoever. We don’t need any skirts to hide behind. You mess up, put your hand up. Take it on the chin.
And the team accepted it?
Absolutely. Then that’s when you want to play. It’s not like woh baarish aa gaya, kharaab umpiring. When you see in this team, you won’t hear the word ‘I’. It’s always ‘We’ did it. Everyone enjoys each other’s performance. That’s honesty. There’s total trust. Anyone can discuss any problem. Not just with me. But with anybody in the team.
When does this moment click?
It comes in the span of time. After that Australian trip. We were there for a long time. And in the World Cup, we were fabulous. The World Cup was different. You saw that. Then it made the players look inside and look at themselves in the mirror and say, you played like kings, yaar. We never thought you would play like this before the World Cup. They would have said, ‘we know we can, but now we know we can.’ Not as an individual but as a team.
Are you looking for these kind of boys, not just talent, but also temperament wise, certain kind of fearless guys?
Temperament is very crucial. That has to be with everybody. There is no individual here. You are playing for a team.
So, he could be a shy guy then?
He could be a shy guy, but he will outdo himself. (Qualities are) steel, and you want to compete. You don’t have to be in the face. Look at Puji (Cheteshwar Pujara). Quietly, he’s very strong. Mentally, he’s strong as anybody.
Good you brought up Pujara, so it’s not like Ravi Shastri wants the players to be outgoing. He has to go drink or something?
Absolutely not. Each one to his own. You pull up with everything that the team needs. The guy averages close to 60, after Australia he didn’t play and was in the reserves for quite some time. He got a chance in one (against Sri Lanka in 2015), and got 140. That’s exactly what you want to see. Not for one moment did he sulk. He might have been hurting inside, but he channelised that energy into good things. That was the match-winning knock of the series!
You had that self-control to handle your kind of lifestyle. But now the danger is this team is trying to become 12 Ravi Shastris and they don’t have that kind of personality.
They won’t. They are not at all. Each one is smart and knows what he is good at, and we keep telling them you don’t try and become someone else. You have so many different characters. That is the habits, no. Once the cricket is over, you do what you want. No one is forced to have a drink, for example. No one is forced to do anything. You do what you are comfortable with. You have to develop your own personality. Just that your focus is on that team culture.
There is perception that you would talk to all people the same — in your style. You would change the way you talk to say a Kohli or then a Rahane or an Umesh?
Depending on each one’s temperament. You might have to go harder on an individual as opposed to another. Then the fact that I have not missed a beat in 35 years as a player or a broadcaster, and the fact that you’ve watched so much of cricket puts you in a very good position. And man management is one of the key qualities. I have had it from a young age. All those things help.
How ‘hard’ do you need to be with some guys?
Hard? Hard means you play to win. A guy might be temperamentally a little softer. You have to go with him in a different way as opposed to a real thick nut. It’s how you speak to the individual. The guy who’s low on confidence or self-esteem, you don’t go and bang him. He might start crying. So you have to maybe mollycoddle him. Aaram se, then get the best out of him. As opposed to another guy who you have to go real hard at. Crack the whip. You know each guy.
You see over a span of time. You watch very closely as to kya hai, kidhar hai, kya ho raha hai. And by that time, say a month goes by — say the England tour went by (Shastri’s first assignment after becoming the team director) — you know who is who. Who you needed to work on. And if you have a coaching staff who’s on your page, it helps. And we have had a fabulous coaching staff. Where there might be a certain guy who I might have been very hard on, so I will send somebody else. Another guy the fault could be something else, I will send someone else.
Then another guy whose case has to be taken, somebody else can go and make him vomit through fielding sessions or something. It might be me saying, ‘Just push these guys. (Make them) run up the hill.’ That communication is very important.
So in this team you have had to do all this? Is there a fear of some people stepping out?
No, not at all. In fact, he would love it. Or he won’t be part of the set-up. And he’ll know if he doesn’t want to be part of the set-up, he won’t be there. He’ll love it.
They aren’t looking at you like some warden?
Not at all! They look at me like an elder brother, yaar. They can come anytime. Have a chat.
Over the years, there have been players who have been afraid against pace or whatever. If you find some cricketers like that in this team not playing with that kind of spirit, and attitude, you are looking for, what will you do?
Out! I won’t put up with those sort of things. Chance hi nahi.
Do you kind of see bit of yourself in Virat Kohli?
Each personality is different but what I can see is the self-confidence, which I had which is very important if you are playing at that level and want to succeed. Any positive man, you see, has a lot of self-confidence. It could be hidden in some; there is a quiet determination . That determination is the key. Then you make it easier for yourself. You might think it’s hard from outside, but when you have lived your life like that, it becomes easy. Ashwin is confident, look at Ajinkya, a quiet but determined personality. Pujara, he got one chance (in Sri Lanka) and he hit a hundred, sau hi kar diya! They all have it in them. It’s fabulous, good bunch.
As a batsman you were stoic, by and large. And now in this generation, we see you backing all the aggressive players, be it Rohit Sharma, etc.
Not really. Vijay for me is the best opening batsman in the world . He is the foundation of our side. You might say David Warner probably, but Vijay has got runs everywhere. Proper player. I just back temperament, whether in attack or defence.
Rohit Sharma, we are not treating him in a different way. He is an exceptional talent. You are not talking about just out of ordinary. You have to handle him carefully but at the same time very strongly. You know there is something very special. You need to be straightforward, but at the same time you can’t be over the top. There is One-day (cricket) he is very good at. I think he is just one innings away (in Tests). You have to be patient for that. That’s where he could be different from some other player (in the way you treat him). He can do it. I see no reason he can’t do it.
The Indian captaincy didn’t happen to you. So, all those things can be done through this as your second innings as coach?
This is the toughest job, I’m telling you. Challenge-wise, when you played, you had a bat in your hand or a ball. As a captain also, you had the tools. You had the boys under your control, you had a bat and ball in your hand. When you were broadcasting, you had a mic in your hand. Here, nothing in your hand once the players go out there. Nothing! Then, it is the most challenging job from the sense that you win, fine, (but) you lose, brickbats. When you win, you are expected to win. Lose, listless. The game has taught me to never back off. It’s a challenge and what you will be amazed with is the goodwill you get in this.
The amount of goodwill from the aam janta or the common man is nothing compared to what you’ve done. They walk up to me. They believe that you are contributing. You could so easily be doing television, sitting there in an AC box, doing your writing and passing judgement. But going back and giving, for them it is massive. I get that feeling. Yes, you get the brickbats and the accolades. But the goodwill is unbelievable.