The team exceeded my expectations
THE WEEK|December 12, 2021
Ravi Shastri, former head coach, Indian men's cricket team
NEERU BHATIA

Ravi Shastri is just glad to be back home in Mumbai. The past two years, in particular, have been especially tiring. As head coach, he has been on the road with the Indian team to several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and the UAE. In that time, he has also lived in bio-secure bubbles, been through lengthy quarantines and followed strict protocols. His four-year tenure ended with the tour to England in September. Now resting and recuperating, he says the handcuffs are finally off!

He had got his second stint as coach ahead of Anil Kumble, who was the BCCI’s choice. Captain Virat Kohli had batted for Shastri, and their partnership was fruitful. The former called the shots and the latter worked in the background with his support staff. Though there was criticism about Shastri taking a backseat, he was clear about his approach to the job—the skipper was the captain of the ship.

The Shastri-Kohli era saw India scaling new heights in Test cricket; the team won away from home and was aggressive and fearless. Shastri’s biggest achievement was taking India to the number one spot in Test cricket. India won the mace twice during his tenure and reached the inaugural World Test Championship final. India was number one for 42 months from 2016 to 2020. It also became the first Asian team to beat Australia in Australia, in 2018-19. India repeated this feat in 2020-21, that too with a depleted side.

The same could not be said of the performance in the shorter formats, especially away from home. The absence of an ICC title still rankles. The team management just could not settle on the right number four in ODIs and the second opening slot, beside Rohit Sharma, was a revolving door. The team reached the semifinals of the 2019 World Cup in England and did not go past the group stage in the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE.

Under Shastri, India won 25 of 43 Tests, 51 of 76 ODIs, and 42 of 65 T20Is. But, for the coach, it was more about how the team won or lost. While India had a never-say die attitude in Tests, in white-ball cricket, it lacked the X factor and was seldom dynamic.

Shastri, though, has always taken the good with the bad. His relationship with Kohli might have been “special”, but it did not exactly end the way it started. In England earlier this year, the duo reportedly had differences of opinion on team issues; Kohli decided to step down as T20I captain and Shastri, too, was done as coach.

That England tour, his last, was perhaps the toughest for Shastri. The team was going into it after losing the World Test Championship final to New Zealand. Worse, Shastri got Covid-19 and was away from the team for two weeks. The series is still alive; India leads 2-1, and the final Test will be played next year.

For Shastri, the saving grace during tough times was his daughter, Aleka, who was with him in England. “She is only 13, but she follows the game avidly and is our in-house expert. She tells me whom to pick and drop from the team,” says the proud father.

In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Shastri spoke at length about his tenure as coach, and his thoughts on the future of the game and the newer players. Most importantly, he spoke of how happy he was to move on from the job. Excerpts:

Q/ How would you sum up your second stint as head coach?

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