Books: Team India's Chief Coach Ravi Shashtri reflects on a crowded cricketing life
In ‘Stargazing: The Players in My Life’, co-authored by sports journalist Ayaz Memon, Ravi Shastri looks back at the extraordinary cricket and cricketers he has encountered over the years
Donning the India cap at the age of 18, which made him one of the youngest cricketers to play for India at the highest level of the game, then emerging as one of India’s finest all-rounders to turn into a cricket commentator and now as Team India’s head coach, Ravi Shastri has seen it all and his association with the game spanning over four decades has been both remarkable and controversial.
“In my debut Test series against New Zealand (1980-81), I took 15 wickets and was rewarded with a pair of shoes from the great Richard Hadlee himself. I don’t know what prompted him to do this, for he didn’t inquire about the size of my feet. But the shoes fit me perfectly. For a starry-eyed 18-year-old, this was a huge honour. As a bonus, the shoes carried his signature too. As I realised soon, in those days, everything to do with cricket in New Zealand was autographed by Hadlee, that’s how popular he was,” writes Shastri with justified pride.
A left-arm spinner and a batsman who either opened the innings or batted in the middle-order for majority of his career, Shastri went on to represent India over a period of 11 years from 1981–1992 scoring 6,938 international runs and taking 280 wickets.
As an 18-year-old in the Indian dressing room, Shastri was impressed by how Sunil Gavaskar prepared mentally for a match.
“When I made my international debut, Sunny was the biggest star in Indian cricket. There was an unmistakable aura around him, off and on the field, and particularly in the dressing room. The way he built his ‘mood’ up for an innings or a match, and prepared himself -handling his kit, spending time by himself, reading a book or going through a set of rituals before he took the field – provided a big spike to my learning curve,” he recalls.
At 58, he is equally fascinated by how young Rishabh Pant - a complete contrast to Gavaskar in approach - prepares himself for the challenges in the middle.
Captain Cool’ Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an unorthodox cricketer, feels Shastri. His technique, in front of the wickets and behind the stumps, was not easily replicable. What made him so successful, says Shastri, were his splendid hands. “They were quicker than a pickpocket’s.”
Sourav Ganguly’s lasting impact was as a captain in nurturing a whole bunch of players who served India with distinction – Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan.
Javed Miandad, he recalls fondly, had enormous belief in his own abilities and was not shy of sledging a bowler, however mighty their reputation. He knew every rule in the book and made a point to know everything about his opponents and could detect vulnerabilities in players within minutes of their being on the field.
From lessons he learnt from Clive Lloyd to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s impact on Indian cricket, Virat Kohli’s special qualities on and off the field to how Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble helped revive spin bowling, Kapil Dev’s influence on Indian pace bowlers to how Allan Border handled a young Australian side that beat England in the 1987 World Cup final to cause one of the biggest upsets in cricket history, Shastri’s book gives an unique perspective when it comes to the game of cricket.
Shastri claims to have learnt not only about cricket’s nuances from the legendary Richie Benaud but also why a clumsily knotted tie can put off TV audiences even if one is talking perfect sense. “From Tony Grieg, I learnt the importance of energy and voice modulation to make commentary enjoyable. Too often, former players who get into the media business live in a cocooned past. Tony was always looking to the future and made extra effort to reach out to fans proactively – and with great success,” says, Shastri
Not surprisingly, the Head Coach reserves a lot of praise for Virat Kohli. “…In 2014, Virat was going through a horrible patch in the Test series against England. I was in England too as commentator, and after joining the team as Director for the ODI series, spent quite a lot of time with him. I was amazed to see how positive he was, though he was struggling for runs. Forget moping, he was determined and convinced that he would master English conditions soon. I realised there was an uncut diamond in Virat,” writes Shastri.