From His Playing Days, Ravi Shastri Has Known How To Adapt, and He Will Again
A witness to his lowest days to his career highs, Amrit Mathur writes about Ravi Shastri.
First, a janhit warning. I have known Ravi Shastri for more than three decades. I was the manager of the Azharuddin-led Indian team that went to South Africa in 1991-92. Ravi was the vice-captain.
Since then, during our various interactions over the years, it has been obvious to me that few cricket people are as switched on as him. His overall ‘package’ is more than 360 degrees, his first-hand experience and grasp of cricket is simply unmatched by anyone. Ravi is on the ball all the time – as player, commentator, head National Cricket Academy (NCA), Indian Premier League (IPL) governing council member, team director, head coach of India. A genuine all rounder, he swapped roles as opportunities presented themselves and acquired new skills.
At 59, his CV is crammed with 40 years of priceless experience at the highest level. He travelled the international cricket world’s highways and by-lanes and knows every road, including the bumps on the way and the speed breakers.
Reinventing himself every few years is his great quality and skill, and he has always stayed ahead of the curve.
In days past, when gentle politeness and decent manners described the Indian team, Ravi was the Virat Kohli of his generation – aggressive, forever front foot, always playing to win, unimpressed by the reputation of opponents. He was Virat minus the tattoo, beard, and affection for Ben Stokes.
Shastri was the original, aggressive New India, combative and spunky 30 years ago, when Virat was somewhere in a nursery school.
In his own words, Ravi is driven by strong self-confidence and a fierce rage to succeed. He was typically Bombay khadoos, not one to give up but also a subscriber of the GTU (gire to bhi taang upar) philosophy. 'Boss,' he’d explain, 'never lose self confidence – even if you fall, get up quickly and stand straight'. Ravi played cricket with a straight spine, self-belief, and a steely glare.
That swag and sturdy self-confidence had shades of Pakistan’s superstar Imran Khan. Like him, Ravi had clarity about his cricket – no doubts ever infected his cricket computer. Like him, Ravi is a proud, self-respecting individual who has a mind (to think), and a voice (to express his opinion).
Ravi, the Cricketer
Like Imran, Ravi was a bowler turned batter all-rounder. Someone who started at number 10 but climbed up the batting order.
The story goes that Ravi was taking wickets in local cricket and word reached Gavaskar – the cricket supremo sitting in Nirlon House – who took one look and included him in the team. Given this break, Shastri raced up the cricket highway, well, ‘like a tracer bullet’ .
His 11-year cricket career (80 tests, 150 ODIs) was remarkable. Starting with Mumbai as a 17-year-old, he played for India within 2 years, taking 3 wickets in 4 balls on his Test debut.
Later, success came more with the bat than ball as Ravi, a defensive blocker, often booed by fans for slow batting, smashed Tilak Raj for 6 sixes in an over, blazing to the quickest (113 minutes/123 balls) double hundred in Ranji. For India, Ravi first batted at number 10 but steadily climbed up the order to open the innings. He went on to become India’s most successful opener overseas scoring 5 of his 11 hundreds in England (including one at Lord’s), West Indies, Pakistan, and Australia against top bowlers who were fast and fierce.
The Injury That Changed Ravi's Life
His playing career, though, was brought to an end at the age of 30 due to a knee injury I witnessed first-hand.
On the 1992 tour of South Africa, I was the manager of Team India, and Ravi was the vice-captain to Azhar. The tour sadly ended Ravi Shastri’s career following a knee injury which was troubling him for a while. Ravi had arthroscopy done earlier in Sydney on the left knee but in South Africa, the injury flared up with a tear in the posterior ligament. We consulted Dave Pollock, an authority in this field, in Cape Town and Ravi and I went to meet him. After looking at his test results, doctor Pollock recommended surgery but before that, sat Ravi down to explain the situation in a manner that was frank and brutally honest.
I remember the doctor telling Ravi that despite surgery the knee wouldn’t mend enough for him to play competitive international sport again. 'You might want to look at other things to do,' he said in plain, simple words.
I was with Ravi in the hospital during the difficult period. The surgery was good but the knee was never good enough despite extensive rehab. A few months after the South Africa tour, Ravi retired from all cricket – at only 31. He remembers this traumatic experience as if it was yesterday.
At that time it was a shock to hear what the doctor said but I can understand now that he was upfront and honest and didn’t hold out any false hope.
The tour started without a formal sign-off on the playing conditions – something completely unthinkable today. All bilateral tours are now governed by an agreement that lists the minutest details of commercial and cricketing matters. But on the '92 tour, it wasn't done and I was told by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to close the matter with Ali on reaching South Africa.
When Ali Bacher requested a meeting soon on arrival, I asked captain Azhar and Wadekar to join the discussion but both politely declined, saying 'tu dekh le '. I dragged vice-captain Ravi along to the meeting where Ali delivered some googlies. Ali wanted TV cameras to decide line calls, run-outs and stumpings, a system they had successfully trialed in domestic cricket.
Neither Ravi nor I had clear views on this and there wasn’t any real reason to object. We agreed, to soon find out the significance of this game –changing innovation when its impact was felt in a telling manner in the first Test at Durban when Tendulkar was found short of the crease at the non-striker’s end on a direct hit from Jonty Rhodes.
Ali, driven by a desire to innovate and take the game forward, proposed other changes. He wanted three umpires to stand in a game (instead of the customary two) with one taking a break after every two-hour session to avoid fatigue. This we turned down, with Ravi making the valid point that umpiring required consistency in judging.
Ravi, the Coach
An eventful tour for Ravi and me but over the years, I have interacted with the former cricketer and now, former India coach, in many capacities. Even though he has a few records to his name, it’s likely he’ll be remembered more for his partnership with Virat Kohli that shaped Indian cricket and gave it a new identity.
In the dressing room, Ravi was a good coach to a good captain: part caring elder, part motivation speaker – always a monster, booster dose of positivity and optimism.
During his term, the Indian men's team underwent a reboot to become a hungry, success searching unit. Results prove the change worked: wins in Australia and England drew appreciative nods of admiration from all quarters. Worldwide, in every format, India is the team to beat.
Ravi has moved on, exited the Indian dressing room but, typically, it won’t be quiet walk into retirement.
In times gone, things were simple. Players played, retired, and went home – back to the pavilion. But in the contemporary, competitive, and commercial world of sport, that narrative has changed. A star player’s career is not a linear story with a start, middle, and end.
Nowadays, a top khiladi doesn’t retire or fade away – his career is a series of short stops and hops. One thing leads to another and every end is a new beginning. In the modern world of OTT programming, it’s a case of a ‘new season’ and ‘new episodes’.
Ravi Shastri is a fine example of a top pro who is always in top demand. It's not 24 hours since his coaching stint with Team India ended, and he hasn’t yet cleared customs and immigration after his Dubai flight, but news is circulating about his next role as coach of a new IPL team!
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