Three Challenges for Team India Coach Ravi Shastri

After weeks of uncertainty, the Cricket Advisory Committee (CAC) – consisting of Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman – declared the inevitable result. Ravi Shastri, former team director and a top contender last year before losing out to Anil Kumble, is now Team India’s new Head Coach – till after the 2019 ODI World Cup.

This came as no surprise to anyone in the know about BCCI’s ways, and their inclination to often bow down to the whims of any Indian captain. Virat Kohli had made it clear that he wanted Shastri as his coach throughout the tenure of Kumble. Despite some excellent results for the team under Kumble, and after a coach-less tour of West Indies, Kohli now has his man. Shastri was one of the five candidates. The others were Virender Sehwag, Lalchand Rajput, Tom Moody and Richard Plybus.

More importantly, the “side” appointments make more sense. Zaheer Khan has been appointed as India’s bowling consultant. And India A and India U-19 coach, Rahul Dravid, has been appointed as the batting consultant ONLY for overseas Test series.

Here are three challenges for this new team till the 2019 World Cup:

No More Pitch Forks
South Africa’s doomed 3-0 Test series loss to India in 2015 came under the shadow of some truly disgraceful pitches. Ravi Shastri was in charge as sole Team Director and MS Dhoni got the kind of spinning graveyards he wanted. This sent out an awful message to any visiting teams, given that India was already a home bully, and didn’t need extra help from bullied grounds men. The pitches at Nagpur and Delhi for the last two tests were minefields that destroyed the morale of a South African team that had come with a great overseas reputation to India. They took a full year to recover and get back to the top of their game. Though it will go down as a statistic in India’s favor in the history books, it will come with an asterisk mark. It wasn’t India’s finest moment, and one attributes it to the overwhelming influence of Shastri at the time. It therefore came as no surprise that India still struggles to win overseas. Later this year, India visits South Africa for a return leg of four Test matches and five ODIs. This will be Shastri and Kohli’s ultimate challenge, in the sense that India hasn’t played out of Asia since 2015. They have a relatively easy tour of Sri Lanka starting next week, but it is against a team that has been in the dumps for a while now. Their captain Angelo Mathews is resigning in wake of the defeat to Zimbabwe at Home in their ODI series.

 

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Build Without Fear
The one thing about Shastri is his bull-headed attitude, which perhaps gels well with Kohli at the helm. Kohli is probably likely to listen to him, which is why he must use his influence in the best way possible. For this, he will have to make tough decisions if they are to build towards the 2019 World Cup in England. The recent Champions Trophy gave him a good idea of what doesn’t work for the Indian team in those conditions. For one, he will have to phase out senior players like MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh – a daring phase that Gary Kirsten and MS Dhoni had handled very smartly back in the run-up to the 2011 World Cup. Players like Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer will have to make their way into the limited-overs setup in the next two years. It will be up to Shastri’s close partnership with Dravid about which young players to blood fully in two years. The Test setup is a tricky one, too. Dravid is known to fully back players like Karun Nair (newly dropped for the Sri Lanka tour), and Kohli and Shastri are known to back talent over form (Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan). After Kohli publically proclaimed not being okay with the tough methods and disciplinary attitude of Kumble, it is important that Shastri does not overcompensate by letting the players have a free hand. He should not be a ‘yes man’ to Kohli, and must provide the kind of support that doesn’t allow him to stand out as the face of the team. A prime example is the way Gary Kirsten combined with MS Dhoni. At the same time, he shouldn’t go the other way either, by being notoriously ‘out of the limelight’ like Duncan Fletcher.

 

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No Conflict Of Interest
It will be very strange if we hear Shastri renew his partnership with Sunil Gavaskar in the commentary box during the IPL. On one hand, he is heading perhaps the biggest cricket team in international cricket. On the other, he cannot be seen talking up players in a league that has often fed the national setup. He must take a leaf out of Dravid’s book. Dravid recently quit his role as mentor of Delhi Daredevils after being appointed as coach for the India U-19 and India A teams. Shastri should be open to most of the points mentioned by an angry Ramchandra Guha in the famous letter two months ago. He should not end up being a cocky BCCI stooge – something that most fans are very aware of, and wary of. What works in his favor is that he is an experienced international ex-player, who knows what it takes to break into a team and sustain a level of excellence for an entire career. Combined with Zaheer and Dravid, if his ego is put aside to balance Kohli’s, Team India can accomplish greater things.

 

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