India news August 20, 2014

A good step but much more needed

Ravi Shastri has plenty of cricketing nous and can help jolt players out of their comfort zones, but his appointment should be the first of many decisions for the BCCI

There's a new sheriff in town. The old coterie has been broken. Some action is better than none. Duncan Fletcher, Trevor Penney and Joe Dawes have had too long a run without proper scrutiny.

Under the Fletcher fleet, India have won the Champions Trophy, reached a World T20 final, beaten Australia, West Indies and New Zealand at home. They have also forfeited a simple chase in a Test in the West Indies, have endured two whitewashes away, failed to close out Tests in South Africa and New Zealand, now lost haplessly in England, and have looked an ordinary ODI side in Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa.

Looking at just the results is a bit unfair. Players go out and play on the field; there is only so much the coaches can do. Yet if you look at the shambles India's slips are, the way bowlers have regressed over time, and the way the batsmen's techniques have come apart in England, the support staff has something to answer for. That it is happening in the middle of a tour, and six months before a World Cup, shows what a shambles the BCCI itself is.

That the BCCI has gone to its crisis manager, Ravi Shastri, is predictable. It always turns to him in crisis. After the Greg Chappell-era left India on a low, Shastri took the team to Bangladesh. When the Supreme Court asked the BCCI to nominate a neutral panel to investigate corruption in the IPL, Shastri was asked to step forward. When a coach is selected, Shastri is on the committee. He played part in the selections of Greg Chappell and Gary Kirsten as coaches. He is the loudest supporter of BCCI on airwaves.

Don't underestimate his cricketing sharpness and acumen, though. Whatever views people might have of Shastri the commentator, he is a sharp cricketing brain. It's another matter he doesn't share too much of it on commentary. He is also bullish by nature. He can't be bad for a team going through a spell of caginess. Throughout this tour, and the previous few, the team's media manager has been paranoid about journalists being seen near the team nets or team hotel, fans being too close to the nets, or too many fans getting too close to the players when asking for autographs. This kind of behaviour can insulate players. It's as if they are doing something wrong, and they need to hide away.

Shastri will ask them to open up. He will tell them they are not running the defence ministry. He will ask them to have fun and express themselves. He will free up a lot of minds. Earlier during the tour one of the India cricketers had a problem with an ESPNcricinfo headline that had a pun in it. The media manager was asked to convey the displeasure. If Shastri had been the coach and had he known this was bothering a player, he would have told the player these things don't matter. Runs and wickets and catches do.

Shastri has done interviews as soon as he has joined, and has not hidden behind excuses. He could bring the badly needed mirror to the dressing room. For instance, he won't be shy of telling MS Dhoni he gets up too early in his keeping stance, and that he needs to go for catches between him and slip. He has temporarily got rid of Penney - brought in by Fletcher - and Dawes - in turn brought in by Penney. He can pull players out of their comfort zone.

Shastri will bring old-fashioned tough love. This much was obvious when he managed the team in 2007. During one of the first net sessions he conducted, he asked the newcomer RP Singh to bounce a senior batsman. Shastri wanted to see how the batsman was going. RP didn't seem too keen on annoying the senior. He got a mouthful from Shastri, who then stood as an umpire and made sure the bouncers were bowled. The senior had to go through that tough session.

Shastri the cricketer was a courageous, resourceful and tough overachiever. He could match banter with banter, abuse with abuse, and good bowling with a dead defensive bat. He was confident, well-rounded, and a mature enough cricketer to have in mind a career when his cricket would be over. He would have made a good captain and a good coach. India looked meek and in a trance of defeat towards the end. Shastri can yank them off that treadmill. They might still lose, but they won't repeat same mistakes over and over again.

Shastri can be blokesy. He will simplify things for the team. You can't be sure if the BCCI is thinking along the same lines, but he can be a bit of a Darren Lehmann. That, however, is when Shastri is at his best. At his worst he can be non-committal and avoid roles that bring accountability. Lehmann has taken a full-time job that he can be held accountable for. Shastri, like many other former players in India, won't. By all accounts, he is here only for this ODI series. Ironically the man we hope will pull the cricketers out of their comfort zone needs to leave his own comfort zone.

At the moment this looks like an appointment to pull the team's morale out of the dumps, and to also assess from closer quarters how Fletcher works. Fletcher is on notice. Where Indian cricket goes from here depends on how this move is followed up on. Surely two assistant coaches can't explain away three years of poor performance outside Asia? Surely all of Shastri's bravado, experience and wherewithal can't paper over the fundamental issues that the BCCI should have begun reviewing in 2011? It can only be hoped that this is a first step of many.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Kuldeep on August 21, 2014, 22:18 GMT

    @ thank you La_Bangla, I think a lot of the fans are of the same opinion. Fletcher is still in the mix of things, India will be carrying the old baggage, I think India needs a shake down in Test Cricket overseas, let's take a fresh approach. There is enough talent in the side but ways to get better results need big improvement from better scheduling to better planning and executing those plans. You can't just do the processes and expect results, make things happen Team India

  • Rajan on August 21, 2014, 16:29 GMT

    Shastri is the new boss along with Fletcher as coach. What if Shastri and Fletcher disagree on any issue? Whose word will be final? Either have Shastri or Fletcher - not both? Clever to retain Fletcher but have replacements for Penny and Dawes. Because, irrespective of the Indian team performance in ODI, Fletcher will be in a Lose-Lose situation. If India wins, credit will go to Shastri and if India loses, Fletcher will still cop the blame. Again, if BCCI really wanted to check the downfall of Indian cricket, it should have been Ganguly and not Shastri. I'd like to see some with winning background (Ganguly) heading Indian cricket. I am not anti-Shastri, but for me he is not one who can be the saviour. As an avid Indian cricket fan, it does not matter to me who is the boss as long as Indian cricket does well. Since Shastri is now the director, here is wishing him well to take Indian team forward.

  • Chandrasekhar on August 21, 2014, 16:27 GMT

    @debashish Josh, totally agree, you missed out some more names - Kedar Jadav in particular, nothing wrong with that guy, if you give as many chances to him as Rohit then we could have had a few more runs on board in England than this pathetic line up. If a player is not in form drop him, you do not have to wait for 5 tests and come to conclusion that Virat and Pujara are out of their depths, they are good but not good enough not to be dropped...pity we took only one extra batsman on tour and that is Rohit Sharma...

  • Imran on August 21, 2014, 16:05 GMT

    I'm sure the team will be back playing "magnificent" cricket.

  • Anshuman on August 21, 2014, 14:55 GMT

    It should be noted that as the Director, Shastri is overseeing not just Fletcher but also Dhoni. For me, it is hard to imagine that Fletcher has a greater influence over the team than Dhoni. Hopefully, Shastri's presence would make both of them more focused.

  • Gopal on August 21, 2014, 14:28 GMT

    This is the usual suspects supposedly "doing" something. It's the BCCI circling the wagons once again!

    You need a coach who is in your face. Appointing timid coaches who kow-tow to the captain on everything, is a recipe for disaster.

    Above all, follow the lead of Michael Clarke - remove the Captain from the Selection Committee (of selecting players for tests / ODIs).

  • VENKATACHALAM on August 21, 2014, 14:14 GMT

    So, how do people know that Shastri has a shrewd cricketing brain, if by your own admission, he doesn't show too much of it in his commentary?

  • John on August 21, 2014, 13:44 GMT

    @Nutcutlet the profit margin for the BCCI is under threat since the sponsorship funds will not come from association with humiliation. The brand value of the BCCI/IPL has diminished substantially due to poor governance and onfield performance. The solution is right before their eyes. Mugdal will point the way.

  • Android on August 21, 2014, 13:41 GMT

    Team India is perfectly fine and no one is out of form. they're just acting to get attention from the deprived fans. trust me they'll win the odi series, t20 and test series vs west Indies and Australia. just wait n watch.

  • Rakesh Kumar on August 21, 2014, 13:13 GMT

    One simple answer: BCCI just send most team India players into a county season in UK, 1 year before any England tour. India players need to play in UK conditions for a longer period, and get used to fielding in the colder weather and batting on swinging, seaming, bouncy and pacy tracks.