England in India 2014 September 8, 2014

I got more than I expected - Shastri

ESPNcricinfo spoke to Ravi Shastri, India's new team director, after the conclusion of the tour of England, where MS Dhoni's team lost the Tests, won the ODIs and then lost the only Twenty20 international

Ravi Shastri on Duncan Fletcher: "He is tremendous ... He is technically very sound. He is a solid character. He is respected. He is a fatherly figure." © Getty Images

Did you achieve the targets you had in mind when you started the role?
Absolutely. I got more than I would have expected. I say that only because of England's record at home, not many sides have thrashed them 3-0 in a four-ODI series. It is a big achievement: from what they were mentally after the Test series defeat, and then to respond in that fashion made me feel proud.

The players, including MS Dhoni, said your aura and positive outlook were the stand-out factors. How did you relax the dressing room?
Those factors defined me as a cricketer. I had to make it a place where the boys wanted to enjoy themselves. I was very clear when I said I am doing this job because I believe in them. And that was enough. As I got talking to them one on one, things started falling in place.

Did you emphasise on individual sessions?
I had a plenty of one-on-one chats. Not sessions. I was not afraid to speak to a guy individually. Ground, bus, bar, dressing room, while eating - we were talking cricket. Communication is important. The advantage I had was I had watched these boys a lot. I told them I have watched more cricket than I have played. I have learned more about cricket after I stopped playing.

One of the guys you focused on was Virat Kohli. Why?
About Virat, you knew it was due (the half-century in the Edgbaston Twenty20). The reason he did not perform earlier was a combination of mental and technical issues. You cannot get out to the same bowler in the same fashion five to six times. So there is an issue. He has to accept there is something wrong otherwise you cannot get out. And that had to be addressed, which we did. There are certain issues Virat understands he needs to work on, which he has been doing. Similar case with Shikhar [Dhawan].

Shikhar batted magnificently - you would have seen the difference in him in the last three matches. He was technically and overall more fluent and confident. Mentally they were down after the Test series, but my job was to make them free. The good thing about this entire team was the willingness to listen and learn. No one works harder than these boys - they push themselves to the limit.

My job was to be with the team for the ODI series. They have won it. I want to let that sink. I will return to India and then think about the future
Ravi Shastri

Why did you handpick these two players?
Not just these two. It was they along with Jinks [Ajinkya Rahane], [Suresh] Raina and [Ambati] Rayudu. And never forget Rohit [Sharma], whose half-century in the second ODI started off everything. If India goes to the World Cup with these players in form, it would be massive.

How did you draw the line between where your job ends and Duncan Fletcher's begins?
Fletcher is the coach: he looks after the handling of various things including little, little stuff. My experience comes into play from the outside - of having been there, done that. The fact that I watch so much is a massive help. And my personality is such if I feel like saying something I don't hold back. I don't care who it is.

What are your observations about Fletcher, having worked with him for the first time?
He is tremendous. He would have done over a 100 Tests as coach, which is massive. He is technically very sound. He is a solid character. He is respected. He is a fatherly figure. I knew Fletcher from the 1983 World Cup. Then in 1984 I led an India Under-25 side to Zimbabwe, where he was my counterpart. So I was aware of his leadership qualities already. Also what made Fletcher's job easier was having the trio of Sanjay Bangar, Bharat Arun and R Sridhar as his assistant coaches.

How did the team receive the three coaches who were brought in suddenly to replace the well-established pair of Joe Dawes (bowling coach) and Trevor Penney (fielding coach)?
The three coaches have been brilliant. Have you seen fielding like that in the Twenty20 at Edgbaston from India? We lost by three runs, but if we had not fielded the way we did, they would have gone over 200 runs. That was the biggest positive - the Indians were like tigers on the field. You field well and that is half the battle in limited-overs cricket.

So the assistant coaches are in for the long term?
All three of them have done an excellent job in the short period they have been given. I have to go back and sit with the BCCI to discuss what will happen in the long term.

A BCCI official was quoted in the media saying your report would decide Fletcher's future with India?
Let the media say what they want. I have told you what I thought of Fletcher. I will go back and speak with the BCCI.

How did you work with Dhoni?
When I first worked as a consultant with the Indian team during the 2007 Bangladesh tour, Dhoni was a key player already. Hence both of us know each other well. Our job was to make his life easier after the Test series. Our job was to take the pressure off him. Our job was to communicate more with the players, make them at ease, and give them the confidence.

Dhoni said it a "good" tour overall for India. Do you agree?
He is not far from the truth. One of the things I had told the boys was, the reason I am here is you have shown me two things on this tour: first was India's greatest ever Test win, at Lord's during the second Test. I mean it. It was phenomenal. I also told them in the final three Tests you played spineless cricket. So for me a good team cannot be a bad team in two weeks. It cannot. It is a learning curve. Then to beat England in the ODI series the way India did was very good. And don't forget, this is only the second time India have won a bilateral ODI series in England.

In ODI cricket, bowling remains a weak area for India …
Death bowling, big time we need to improve on. It is a key area. For Dhoni to fall back on a spinner to bowl in the death overs becomes very risky. It is not yet a concern, but bowlers need to be aware about where to bowl and what to try in such a situation.

Dhoni has pointed out consistently that India lack an allrounder in Tests. If you were a selector how would you solve this issue?
Someone like [Ravindra] Jadeja has to be backed and encouraged and told you can get runs on a regular basis. And I feel he is good in all three formats.

About your future, strong voices within the BCCI want you performing the role for the World Cup. Are you happy to take it?
One step at a time. I was doing commentary during the Oval Test. This is my first, proper off day. I got a call immediately after the Oval Test asking me take over. Then your whole mind goes into a tailspin because you are supposed to suddenly do something different and massive. My job was to be with the team for the ODI series. They have won it. I want to let that sink. I will return to India and then think about the future.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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