When technology in cricket – and statistics, as its offshoot – scrutinise minutest of details these days, the Ravi Shastri-Virat Kohli coach-captain partnership, which ended on Monday, 8 November, at the T20 World Cup, would not be spared either.
Even if specialist cricket statisticians miss something somewhere, the innumerable so-called ‘statisticians’, ‘commentators’, and ‘experts’ on social media will remain unconstrained and ruthless, particularly after India failed to make it beyond the first round of the T20 World Cup.
Since a lot rides on every match, another sad aspect of the cut-throat cricket competition in this era, globally, is that people judge everything by results. And social media escalates narrow defeats into major issues, and then its users go berserk. India’s crashing out of an International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament before the semi-finals, for the first time since 2012, has also turned into one such big issue. The reaction to the loss to Pakistan has been insane.
India, under Shastri-Kohli, failed to win an ICC tournament, including the World Test Championship, in which New Zealand defeated Kohli’s team in the final this year. India, though, reached the semi-finals of the 50-over World Cup in 2019.
However, if one sits down with a cool head and, discounting India’s performance in this T20 World Cup, taking into account the amount of cricket the members of this Indian team have played without break, you would probably forgive them for their failure. Shastri did admit it before India’s final league game against Namibia on Monday night.
With India’s ouster from the T20 World Cup, and at the end of an eventful and successful Shastri-Kohli era, Rahul Dravid will begin a fresh chapter as Shastri’s successor.
Third Time the Charm?
The Shastri-Kohli combo began in 2017 and both gelled well, at least that is the impression one gets from outside. If they had any disagreements, they did well to conceal those. That is the way it should be.
Both the coach and his captain have similar personalities and approach to the game: they are bold, fearless, not afraid of taking risks while going for a win. And that aggressiveness was reflected to a large extent in the Indian team’s selection, its approach, playing positive cricket, and going for the jugular most of the times.
And Kohli seemed to have the support of Shastri on this. It was obvious as the Indian team continued to play positively and won many matches since Shastri took over in 2017 – his third stint with the national side. He had managed the team first on the 2007 Bangladesh tour, after Greg Chappell left following India’s first-round exit at the 2007 World Cup, and then in 2015-16, before Anil Kumble replaced him briefly.
Kohli was captain during most of Shastri’s present stint, and they got along instantly and famously. They hardly disagreed with each other on issues. The open discord between Kohli and Kumble seemed to have brought them closer to each other during Shastri’s just-ended stint.
Focus on Fast Bowlers
One of the biggest achievements of the Shastri-Kohli duo was the constitution and consolidation of the fast bowling combination; the other was building strong bench strength.
Speedsters Jaspit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Shardul Thakur formed a formidable fast bowling unit. They helped India win several Test series, most notably the Border-Gavaskar Trophy twice in Australia.
The 2-1 Test series triumph over Australia in 2018-19 – the first ever for India in Down Under in the 12th attempt in 71 years – particularly had the imprint of these fast bowlers. India thus became the first Asian team to beat Australia in a Test series in Australia. Bumrah, Shami, and Ishant captured 50 of the 70 opposition wickets, which translated into 71.43 percent. The four Indian spinners shared the other 20 wickets to fall. India again defeated Australia 2-1 and retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in 2020-21.
A Long Reign
Whenever the Shastri-Kohli tenure would be discussed, results would be cited, the opposition that India played against would be cited. Although it is said that numbers tell only half of the story, they are staked in favour of the duo. Thanks to the two series wins in Australia, Kohli’s team remained No.1 Test team for over 40 months. And India had their longest ever winning streak of seven Tests in 2019. The team is currently leading 2-1 in the five-Test series, of which the final match will be played next year in England due to Covid.
And, across three formats, India won 12 straight matches in 2017. Separately, India won 10 successive T20 Internationals. All these figures point to the success of the team built and encouraged by Shastri and Kohli. The fast bowling unit will undoubtedly be the richest legacy that Shastri and bowling coach Bharat Arun, a former India pacer, are leaving behind
And there is good bench strength, including Umran Malik – the fastest bowler of the 2021 IPL – to further boost this department.
A Strong Core
This unit is good enough to stand India in good stead when they play the next T20 World Cup in Australia next year and the 50-over World Cup in 2023 at home. At least the core of this unit, if not all of them, promise to serve India well in the near future.
The batting line-up, too, is strong enough to tackle any attack. Apart from Kohli and Rohit Sharma, who is set to take over the T20 reins, KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Suryakumar Yadav, Rishabh Pant, Hardik Pandya, etc, form the core and that augurs well for India’s future.
Equally, crucially, the Shastri-Kohli combine encouraged and backed the kind of fearless brand of cricket that was not seen earlier in India. Kohli had underlined it a few times that if the team loses while trying to win games, he won’t mind that. And he had the backing of the team management, essentially Shastri.
Bio-Bubbles Remain a Concern
However, amid all these positives, the non-stop cricket and COVID-19 seems to be affecting players as they have been living in bio-bubble since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year. And Shastri, with nothing to lose now, admitted this before the game against Namibia on Monday night in Dubai. “I am mentally drained but I expect that at my age. These guys are physically and mentally drained – six months in a bubble. What we would have ideally liked was a bigger gap between the IPL and the World Cup.”
This is something that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would have to take note of. Perhaps Shastri will mention this in his coach’s report as one of the reasons for losing to Pakistan and New Zealand in the T20 World Cup, immediately after the end of the IPL, and effectively crashing out.
Kohli, too, hinted at it, but chose different words to describe fatigue: “It's also time for me to create some space and prioritise things moving forward…” Of the T20 captaincy he said he was “immensely proud” and “grateful for the opportunity to have led the Indian cricket team in the T20 format for so many years, and now I think it's time for the next lot to take this team format.”
While Shastri, Bharat Arun, and fielding coach R Sridhar leave the scene, Kohli will surely bat on, perhaps now with more freedom and flair after quitting T20 captaincy. Not all resignations should be mourned.