South Africa vs India 2018: Why Ravi Shastri needs to tame his exuberance for the good of Team India
Overseas defeats these days are not very uncommon. For almost half a decade now, all the Test teams have been struggling as visitors and barring a few exceptions here and there, no one has really shown the pedigree to dominate the game across the globe. But if there was one team that seemed the most likely to break the trend, it was Team India.
India seemed to have all their bases covered in terms of composition. Also, most of these players have reasonable overseas experience. All of this coupled with the freshness of Virat Kohli's approach in Tests gave way to a lot of optimism.
But with the first Test done and dusted, it all seems a far-fetched thought now and one of the reasons behind it seems to be overdoing that exuberance that helped them flourish in the home season. By exuberance, I am not referring to the adrenaline rushed gesticulating Indian skipper on the field, but more so the off the field planning and strategy.
One of the biggest fear that most (if not all) of the cricket aficionados seemed to be having after the replacement of Anil Kumble by Ravi Shastri as Team India's head coach was the latter's lack of ability to bring calm to the fire of Kohli. And when your captain is someone as exuberant as Virat, that might not be the best proposition as both the parties start bringing almost the same things to the table instead of complimenting each other.
Shastri's tactical blunders
Anyone who has followed Shastri's commentary over the years would know that he is someone who believes more in taking gut calls rather than methodical, the evidence of which can be found even in his previous stint. For instance, the selection of Karn Sharma, a bowler with not much to boast of in terms of first-class record over Ravi Ashwin rightly baffled a lot of experts. The experiment fell flat on its face, not just affecting the team's performance adversely but also denting the confidence of both the tweakers.
Shastri seems to have learnt no lesson from his past tactical blunders. The selection of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan over the likes of technically more adept Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul goes on to further show the lack of astute thinking from India's head coach. Rahul is not just visibly technically more solid than Dhawan but also boasts of a better Test record outside the subcontinent when compared to the southpaw. The Karnataka-batsman already has a test hundred in Australia whereas Dhawan was all at sea in his previous stints in South Africa as well as New Zealand.
Despite all of that, this decision can still be categorized debatable as Rahul, even though technically more sound, is yet to really prove his mettle outside the subcontinent over a number of innings. But the decision to axe your most successful overseas batsman, Rahane in this case, (mind you Rahane is also the vice-captain for the tour) for a batsman who has shown great form in limited overs cricket on home tracks is equivalent to letting someone in the Indian Army on the basis of their Counter-Strike's exploits.
There is a very fine line between a tactical bet and pure punts. The selection of Jasprit Bumrah might well fall into the earlier category since he was replacing individuals who, even though more experienced, had failed to really grab their chances(Ishant's strike rate of over 90 in South Africa is a testimony to that). Also, Bumrah's ability to hit the deck harder(a trait invaluable in these conditions) than both Umesh and Ishant makes this bet worth taking.
But the exclusion of Rahane for Rohit was simply inexplicable.
Virat Kohli's and this Indian team's strength lie in their aggression, exuberance and fearlessness. But for these traits to be channelised properly, it is imperative the backroom staff compliments these instead of replicating the same.
Most of the modern day successful coach-captain combinations have aptly complimented each other. Wright-Ganguly, Buchanan-Ponting, Moody-Mahela are all examples of how the coach's presence helped in calming and channelising the aggression of the skipper. Shastri needs to start doing the same now. Decisions which might seem tempting at first must be carefully analysed with pure logical reasoning.
Right now, we are done with just one of the several overseas Tests that India are scheduled to play this year and make no mistake, this team definitely has the pedigree to not just compete but also excel. Many of these players have demonstrated their skills overseas previously and hence this team still has a good chance of holding their own in the long run.
But it would be an absolute shame if it fails to do so owing to lack of strategic acumen.
With just one Test done, the time is apt for Shastri and Co to realise that he needs to compliment the aggressive Virat and the first step towards that might well be by taming his own exuberance.