Ravi Shastri’s go-getter mentality puts him in position to retain Indian cricket coaching job

His relationship with the big players and positive attitude put him in pole position for reappointment as India cricket coach.

Ravi Shastri, right, has instilled in the Indian cricket team a sense of positivity in recent times. Saurabh Das / AP Photo
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As a player, Ravi Shastri made 11 Test centuries and took 151 wickets. In the ODI arena, he was part of the 1983 World Cup-winning side, and Player of the Tournament when India won the World Championship of Cricket in Melbourne two years later.

Like Garfield Sobers, he hit six sixes in an over.

But in the latter part of his career, he was often barracked by home crowds for slow scoring and perceived arrogance.

After two decades in broadcasting, he took an unexpected detour in August 2014 when appointed director of the Indian team, after they had lost a Test series in England.

Not a man given to doing things by halves, he quickly set about imprinting his brand of positivity – and some would say abrasiveness – on the side.

The results were largely positive. India lost the Test series in Australia, but made good progress to the World Cup semi-final before losing to the hosts.

They beat Sri Lanka away in Tests, and thumped South Africa 3-0 at home, before reaching the semi-final of the World Twenty20. Shastri’s contract ran out at the end of that tournament and made no secret of the fact that he would like to be back.

“It is a very challenging job,” he told this correspondent, during an interview with Wisden India. “It is a very important moment in Indian cricket. When the moment is important, Ravi Shastri is the last one to back away. So if you’re asking if my hat is in the ring, it is in there. Maybe three hats!”

Shastri’s cause is helped by the fact that the players that matter, especially Test captain Virat Kohli and main spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, are comfortable working with him.

Even when Duncan Fletcher was the coach – he left after the 2015 World Cup – Shastri made little effort to hide the fact that his word was the final one.

“It was Duncan’s team, but I was instrumental in paving the way, in showing the path,” he said. “Whether Duncan liked it or not, he had to accept it, as simple as that.”

The only stumbling block against Shastri being reappointed appears to be the perception among certain members of the Board of Control for Cricket in India that he is a supporter of N Srinivasan, the one-time board president and ICC Chairman who has now been banished from cricket administration’s top table.

Srinivasan regularly consulted former players, and voices like Shastri’s were instrumental in ensuring that the board instituted a pension scheme, and also gave out lucrative one-time payments to former Test stars and domestic-cricket stalwarts.

India play 17 Tests over the next 12 months, and the birds-of-a-feather bond Shastri enjoys with Kohli could well ensure that he gets the job.

He has never hidden his admiration for Kohli, who he compares to the foremost batsman of his generation.

“I think what sets him apart is intent,” Shastri said. “I saw that with Viv [Richards]. I saw an innings he played against us when he made a brilliant hundred in the fourth innings to win the game [Delhi, 1987].

“Similar mindset. ‘I am not bothered about the pitch, I am not bothered about the total I am chasing, I want to get one run more.’”

For now, Shastri is on the commentary road with the Indian Premier League (IPL), a tournament he has aggressively promoted from its inception.

“What it has done, let’s cut straight to the chase,” he said when asked how the IPL had impacted Indian cricket. “A World Cup, two semi-finals [2015 World Cup and World Twenty20 2016] and a final [World T20 2014], as simple as that.”

Other names are in the fray, but with his methods promoting on-field aggression and off-field relaxation, the Shastri message seems to have struck a chord with the team.

Do not be surprised to see him back, three hats and all.

Hockey in India may be on the up despite latest defeat to Australia

If you discount the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which many leading nations boycotted, you have to go all the way back to Munich in 1972 for India’s last hockey medal. The years since have seen both underachievement and frustration.

In 1984, West Germany edged them out on goal difference for a place in the semi-final after the two teams played out a goalless draw. Twelve years later, in Atlanta, India beat Spain (silver medallists) and drew with Germany (fourth), but they missed out on the semis because they lost to unfancied Argentina.

At Sydney in 2000, they were a minute away from the last four when Tomasz Cichy salvaged a draw for Poland.

South Korea, who had started packing their bags in anticipation of an Indian win against the rank outsiders, went through instead.

Those campaigns were triumphs though compared to what has transpired since.

India did not even qualify for Beijing in 2008, and in London four years later, they lost all six matches, shipping 21 goals in the process.

The shoots of revival have much to do with the coaching of Roelant Oltmans, the 61-year-old Dutchman who won Olympic gold with the Netherlands in 1996. Results have not been consistent, but under the leadership of Sardara Singh, India have climbed to seventh in the world rankings.

At the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, they thrashed Pakistan 5-1 en route to the final, where they were beaten 4-0 by Australia on Saturday. It is the same Australia who drubbed them 5-1 in the league phase, a reminder of how far Oltmans and his wards have to go to recreate the halcyon years.

Meanwhile, Pakistan have not even qualified for Rio de Janeiro. The intellectually lazy blame the switch from natural grass to Astroturf for the decline.

It would make more sense to look at cricket, which has the eyeballs hockey covets, and is better administered as well.

That alone should tell you enough about the calibre of the men who have run South Asian hockey into the ground.

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