Wednesday, 16 May, 2007

Can Ravi Shastri keep his slate clean?

Two matches of contrasting importance ended in an identical fashion, within a day of each other.

The first one played in England was between Somerset and the visiting West Indies team. Rains robbed WI of much needed match practice ahead of the first test at Lords, starting Thursday. How much it hurt WI, only time will tell.

Closer home, weather gods prevented India from making a 3-0 sweep of the ODI series in Bangladesh. I suspect there would be couple of gloomy faces in the Indian dressing room, for this was the last chance to redeem themselves, ahead of the all-important England tour in July/August 2007.

But this post isn’t about gloomy faces and near misses. Its about the Indian coach Ravi Shastri, who, as the trivia goes, is the only Indian captain to have a 100% win record in test matches.

Rewind to 1987-88 home series against WI led by Viv Richards. As in 1983, West Indies team was on a full tour to India immediately after the World Cup. The only difference being, unlike the 1983, this was by no means a ‘Revenge Series’. West Indies had crashed out of the 1987 WC in the group stage for the first time ever, courtesy Courtney Walsh’s sporting refusal to ‘Mankad out’ Abdul Qadir. Indians on the other hand were ‘swept’ away by Graham Gooch at Bombay, in what was to be Sunil Gavaskar’s last ODI match.

Kapil Dev was stripped off his captaincy in the aftermath of India’s defeat in the World Cup semi final and Ravi Shastri was widely expected to replace the Haryana hurricane. But those were the days, when India placed a rather heavy premium on seniority, over expertise and ability. A fortunate and glaring exception to this rule was the 21-year-old MAK ‘Tiger’ Pataudi’s promotion ahead of stalwarts like Polly Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar, after Indian skipper Nariman Contractor was felled by a nasty bouncer from Charlie ‘Chucker’ Griffith in Barbados in middle of 1961/62 series. That story though is for another day, another time. Stranger things have happened to Indian cricket.

So, in came Dilip ‘Colonel’ Vengsarkar and out went Ravi Shastri’s golden chance to lead India. Well almost, because as fate would have it, Vengsarkar got injured during the Calcutta test of this (1987-88) series and it was Ravi Shastri, who guided a young Indian team, comprising of three debutantes – Narendra Hirwani, Ajay Sharma and WV Raman, to a famous 255 run win on a minefield of Chepauk wicket. Narendra Hirwani emulated Australian Bob Massie, both, in taking 16 wickets on debut, as also in ending the career with little to show, after a glorious debut.

This was the first and the only time that Shastri captained India in tests.

With two test series against Bangladesh due to start soon, Shastri would be praying for rains to subside. Not only will it give him a fair chance to assess the Indian players in the longer version, it will also help keep his slate clean, both as a captain and as a coach.

Let’s all join him in the prayers.

You may find this absurd, but I can’t help comparing Ravi Shastri to Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was India’s PM - first as a caretaker for 13 days, then 13 months before completing his full tenure of 5 years.

So far, Shastri has been at the helm for one test (as a caretaker captain) and one series (as a coach). Hopefully, he will agree to a full term, after he is done with his current commitments.

And don’t forget to pray that unlike Vajpayee, Ravi Shastri ends his tenure on a high note!


Golandaaz said...

I believe MAK became captain in only his 4th Test. Also Azhar was also fairly young when he took over. Ditto with Kapil who won the WC at a mere 24 years. Porbably the yongest captain to win the cup and he had plenty of seniors in the side.

Cricket Guru said...

I was referring to the bureaucratic set up that prevailed in India those days when your age and experience counted more than the ability.

Yes, Kapil was the youngest captain to win the WC at 24. But once Gavaskar lost his captaincy post Pakistan series, there was virtually no competition to Kapil. Venkat was selected for WI tour, but he was well past it by then. The team had other seniors like Mohinder and Madan Lal, but you won't call them 'captaincy material', would you?

Even Azharuddin had played for close to 5 years before assuming the lead role. And IMHO, he became a captain by default, not design, by virtue of his low profile and his non-controversial image then.

Tiger Pataudi's was a different case altogether. His appointment came in the midst of an away series in West Indies. I consider it a brave decision by selectors, going by the circumstances of his appointment and his relative inexperience. In the end it was not only a brave decision but good as well, for Indian cricket, as next 7/8 years proved.

simple cricket said...

Ravi Shastri is highly individualistic. And he may ask from his players to be so, which in itself is the truer aspect of cricket since, though cricket is a team game it is played by individuals at a time. Its totally different than Football.
That way Ravi would be a good input to the team.
But he is also too busy to be involved in the politics of BBCI as a long term coach.
He should not look at the Bangladesh tour as an acheivement to be put on his CV

Cricket Guru said...

It is indeed unfortunate that Shastri cannot devote more time to coaching. I believe, BCCI should do what it takes to persuade Shastri take up the job of full time coach, after he is done with his current media commitments.

Golandaaz said...

I am sure there are more like Shastri. Shastri is a cricketer of his time; a time where competitiveness was the key word. Shastri can be a great coach but there may be others.

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