Why Ravi Shastri deserves a final chance
He is often derided by the India faithful, sometimes for his pot-belly, at other times for his perceived arrogance. Ravi Shastri, a celebrated cricket commentator with a penchant for cliches, has never found favour with the fans during his stint as the coach of the India team.
It is thus understandable that there have been numerous calls for his head after the No.1 Test side's disastrous start to the hotly-anticipated Test series against England, a team currently ranked 4 notches below them.
Done himself no favours
Shastri, true to form, has done himself no favours with his approach to a long summer of grueling Test cricket; first, in a pre-departure press conference tinged with overconfidence, then, by refusing to play enough practice games, deciding, foolhardily, that they are ready for the swinging ball and cloud-covered atmosphere of a typical English season after playing a T20 and an ODI series.
Even that solitary practice game was reduced to three days at the team management's insistence.
Former cricketers like Sandeep Patil and Virender Sehwag have held him questionable in the face of his debacle alongside Virat Kohli, and rightly so. Kohli, the genius batsman and embattled captain, has come up with a defence of sorts. However, the other man in the firing line has kept his own counsel, adding to the displeasure of his detractors. Reports suggest the board has also questioned the duo after India crashed to a second successive defeat at Lord's last week.
Shastri is especially unpopular because people consider him arrogant. He had a much-publicized fallout with Sourav Ganguly when he was denied the job of India coach the first time he applied for it and even though he got it the second time around, the two have taken potshots at each other ever since. People have also questioned his hedonistic lifestyle on the internet, especially after images of his bulging stomach emerged.
India has had a tremendous period in the limited overs game during the Shastri-Kohli reign over the last year. They have also secured the No.1 Test rank, although mainly piggybacking on home success to attain the ranking.
Cricket, like any other sport, is full of uncertainties. The swinging ball under dark skies at the home of cricket was a joy to behold for the spectators but terror for the Indian batsmen who got the worst of the conditions during the curtailed Test. However, that isn't an excuse for the capitulation that the KL Rahuls and Murali Vijays suffered which reeked of unpreparedness and technical deficiencies.
Shastri should be held accountable for that but going down 2-0 is not the end of the world and defeat is an inalienable part of the game. The reaction to the capitulation has, as expected, been a bit over the top and will not help India's cause as they try to turn things around in Nottingham in the 3rd Test.
India have been poor travelers traditionally, expecting them to cruise to victory in this 5-match Test series was foolhardy. Yes, during Shastri's time they have continued the trend of doing badly overseas, most notably in South Africa, where, again, the team was woefully under-prepared going into the Tests. The Mumbaikar must take the burden of these defeats but one must give him a chance at redemption, especially in the rest of this series.
Calling for his head now is hasty and may lead to more setbacks in the coming weeks. Often, it has been questioned as to what the coach contributes to success in this sport. Shane Warne's fallout with John Buchanan was engendered by a similar question.
However, in the modern game, the coach plays a role in the strategy as well as man-management. For all his perceived attitudinal issues, Shastri tops in the second category because he has an amazing rapport with Kohli and his boys. His stint as a commentator has also shown that he is a canny reader of the game, although one with a limited vocabulary.
For that former reason itself he should be persisted with for now. Even a narrow defeat in the series with India winning matches should be considered a great turnaround. If that doesn't transpire and England pull off a whitewash, then, the controversial Shastri will have blown his last chance and he might go down in the annals of Indian cricket as a coach who rode his luck more than his acumen.