October 19, 2009

'I hated Miandad's guts'

Interview by Sam Collins
Ravi Shastri, India's glamour boy of the eighties, talks about making it big early, the kind of captain he might have been, and his reputation for stodgy batting

Was playing for India what you aspired to from childhood?
It was a dream initially. The chances of making it are so remote; that is why it is a dream. As a child I played cricket as a hobby. Once you started playing for your school, you became more ambitious. You reckoned you could play for the state. Then you started to think about the country. But it happened so quickly for me, I started playing for the school at 13, for Bombay at 17, and at 18 I was in the Indian side.

You took three wickets in four balls on your Test debut, against New Zealand.
I had flown 30 hours to reach Wellington at 9pm. The next morning I was told I was in the starting XI. We lost the toss and were put in to field. There was no time to think, straight off the aircraft, barely a night's sleep, and before lunch I had the ball in my hand. I got three out in that first innings, then New Zealand were 78 for 6 in the second and I was given the ball. In the first three overs I took three wickets in four balls.

Did you consider yourself a bowler at that stage?
I always considered myself an allrounder. My batting took some time to develop - I was batting at No. 10 initially but my bowling took off. I got 15 wickets in that first series, but soon I was making strides as a batsman. I scored my first Test century in January 1983. I opened the innings in the last Test against Pakistan during that series. From there on there was no looking back.

As your batting improved did you begin to neglect your bowling?
Not neglect but subconsciously the focus went more on batting. I was not just batting at No. 6 or No. 5, I was opening for India - a specialist position in its own right. People say I was defensive, but at the top you have a role to play, to hold the innings together, see the new ball off, so you were a lot more disciplined and didn't take chances.

What is your proudest moment on the pitch?
Nothing gave me more pleasure than making hundreds at the top of the order: a hundred against West Indies at No. 3, Test century in Barbados in 1988-89; a double-hundred as an opener in Shane Warne's first Test. It was during that Barbados hundred that Malcolm Marshall went past Lance Gibbs as the leading wicket-taker for West Indies, and the roof came down when he took that fifth wicket. I was at the non-striker's end. It was a sight, just the noise in Barbados, his home ground, a packed house on a Saturday. It was a great feeling.

Kapil Dev once said you had 50% ability but 200% determination. Is that a fair assessment?
If you get more than 10 Test hundreds, you've bloody got ability, but he is right. I was a very determined cricketer. I treated the opening position as a challenge. Big names and tough attacks brought the best out of me. That's why you see the hundreds at the top, against West Indies, England, a double- hundred in Australia, in Pakistan at Karachi - the first Test hundred that changed my career - against Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Wasim Raja. There were some serious bowlers there.

Weren't you once pelted with fruit by the Indian crowd for batting too slowly?
Not pelted but there was a lot of jeering. Because you set such high standards at a young age, when you went through a bad patch, the crowd would get on your back. I would stick two fingers up at them. Then it spread from one state to another. It just inspired me to get more runs but it wasn't easy. In hindsight I could have smiled and got the crowd on my side.

A week after you made a 325-ball hundred in a Test against England in Calcutta you hit six sixes in an over - in 1984-85.
It was only a few days after. I don't know what changed. In the first game I was on 26 overnight and went to lunch on 69, so I had scored almost 50 in the session and was batting beautifully. Suddenly, after lunch I don't know what went into my head - I just blocked the shit out of it. Then the crowd started jeering, and I thought, "I'm not going to throw my wicket away." It had to be a mental block. It's not like they were bowling grenades, it was still [Pat] Pocock and [Phil] Edmonds and the same ground. So it was a great release to be able to go and smash it for Bombay against Baroda. I was already batting on a hundred, when the message came from the dressing room that we were declaring in half an hour.

You were in Pakistan when Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984. What are your memories of that?
It was sad. She was a great leader. We were introduced to her the three times we played in Delhi, and all three times she at least said a sentence to me. It was disappointing because I was having one of my best tours of Pakistan. I had scored 71 and taken three wickets in the first Test, 139 in the next Test match; but the third one was cancelled.

You played for Glamorgan for four seasons between 1987 and 1991. What are your memories?
It was a very young team. It allowed me to relax and get away from India as the press were hounding me. So those six months were a relief. I thought my batting improved tremendously in county cricket in different conditions. Each county had some top players. Greenidge and Marshall at Hampshire, Hadlee and Rice at Notts, Holding at Derby, Desmond Haynes at Middlesex, Gooch and Border at Essex - every side had box office, it was a great time. I thought I should have batted higher. I was at No. 5 when I could have batted at the top of the order.

"When you went through a bad patch, the crowd would get on your back. I would stick two fingers up at them. Then it spread from one state to another. It just inspired me to get more runs but it wasn't easy. In hindsight I could have smiled and got the crowd on my side"

Is your reputation as the glamour boy of Indian cricket fair?
I think so. It was because I was successful. By the age of 25 I had played over 50 Test matches. I was getting runs, wickets, stick from the crowd. I didn't hold back, I was no introvert. I just took it in my stride. But cricketers need charisma - it makes a big difference. Some people have it naturally and others develop it as they go along.

Did this reputation impact on your captaincy ambitions?
Not really. I won every domestic title that existed in India as captain of Bombay. Sometimes captaincy falls in your lap and sometimes it doesn't. I'm happy it came to me once in Test matches. It happened to be against West Indies - the best side I ever played against - and we beat them at home for the first time in 11 years. I would have done a good job for India if I had got it full time, let's put it that way. It's not my job to say I should be captain, that's for the selectors. But I would have been ruthless. I would have played to win at all costs. It's not about drawn games.

Who were your biggest rivals in cricket?
Pakistan. Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Javed Miandad - we played a lot against each other at that time. I hated Javed's guts on the field, but you had to admire him. He was a street-fighter. He got under your skin but he delivered for his side. I know him now, and he's a great bloke. Playing against West Indies was a highlight. It's good to know that you played against them whether you succeeded or not. In my case it was a bit of both.

You were Shane Warne's first Test wicket. Did you have a sense then how good he would become?
I always knew Warne would take a lot of wickets but never thought it would be 700. I already had a double-hundred by the time he got me out. When I first played him, I was impressed by his temperament, his control, and his ability to spin the legbreak. He tossed it up, spun it and focused on his legbreak - that was his stock ball to the end of his career. I keep telling the Australians they should make me an honorary citizen. I gave him so much confidence with that first wicket that he went on to take 700.

Ravi Shastri was interviewed at the private bank Coutts & Co in London as part of a cricket-themed evening. For further information Coutts may be contacted at www.coutts.com
This article first appeared in the October 2009 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shreyas on October 21, 2009, 15:26 GMT

    Well, I was only 5 years old when he retired so I couldn't see much of him.

    But it feels to good to watch a match whenever he is there as a commentator.

    Undoubtedly he is one of the best commentators of all time along with Harsha Bhogle,Tony Greig.He has an excellent voice,good command over English language and also not partial towards anyone while commentating.

    I hope he continues his good work for many more years to come.

  • mahesh on October 21, 2009, 6:51 GMT

    To be honest the only memories of Shashtri from my childhood are "champion of champions" and the chants of "shastri Hai Hai" in almost every ODI game...

  • Vineet on October 20, 2009, 20:14 GMT

    There have been two good periods for Indian team. One from 1972 - 74, when they won at WI and then England, against best pace bowlers and the other from 1983 to 1986. The team of mid 80s was quite similar to that of SA in mid 90s. The players, apart from Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, didn't achieve too much of individual accolades but as a team they really thrived, and it was because of the ordinary talent but extraordinary zeal of players like Shastri, Srikkanth, Vengsarkar, Sandip Patil, Mohinder Amarnath, Madan Lal, Roger Binny. Even today, the teams who win the tournaments are those which have players who put up their hands when situation demands, even in T20. You cannot expect a century every time from Tendulkar or Dravid or a five for from Kumble.Rohit sharmas and Rainas of todays should take some clue from career of Ravi Shastri. the difference between great teams and such good teams are that there are great players who stand up in tough situation, like Aussies on 90s and WI in 70s.

  • syed on October 20, 2009, 19:29 GMT

    i respect him, i am pakistani team sporter but he is great person and he alway speack good out side ground of also, great player,,,, lovely man

  • Sam on October 20, 2009, 16:28 GMT

    Finally a question on why he took a single in the last over of the tied Test of 1986.

    SC: Do you ever regret taking that single in the last over of the great tied Test of 1986? (Maninder Singh was lbw to Australia's Greg Matthews off the penultimate ball)

    RS: Not at all. If I had to do it a hundred times again I would do the same thing. For the simple reason that the risk factor was 70:30 in going to become a hero, and putting your side one-nil down in the series, instead of closing the door on Australia. Allan Border had set five fielders on the boundary line and I was thinking of the team, not trying to be a hero. It was the first Test. If we were one down and it was the last Test of the series, rest assured I would have gone for the jugular to try and draw level. That was the psyche.

  • Sam on October 20, 2009, 16:25 GMT

    Here is the question on the 1983 World Cup that went unpublished.

    SC: Was it a big blow not to take part in the latter stages of the 1983 World Cup that India won?

    RS: Not really. I was 21, and for me the fact that I had played a part in a World Cup winning team was enough. The first time the West Indies were ever beaten in a World Cup was that first game in Manchester, and I took the last three wickets as India won a close, tight game by 34 runs. I played the first five games, but didn't play the last three, because they wanted to play an off-spinner against England who had a lot of left-handers. Kirti Azad bowled extremely well against England, he got Ian Botham and bowled very tightly, so he played in the final. It was in the best interests of the team.

  • Sam on October 20, 2009, 16:16 GMT

    As this interview originally appeared in The Wisden Cricketer, several questions were cut to conform to a word limit, including those on the 1983 World Cup and 1985 World Championship. It appeared as a 'Been There Done That' feature, which is why the interview focuses on past rather than present.

    The question on the 85 World Championship is below.

    SC: You were Champion of Champions as Pakistan won the World Championship of Cricket in 1985, how did that rank among your achievements?

    RS: I was probably at the peak of my career as an allrounder. It was the time when I felt I could go out and score a hundred or take five-for in any innings of any game. In that tournament [World Championship of Cricket], everything came together.

  • Arvind on October 20, 2009, 15:24 GMT

    Ravi Shastri the commentator is a world-class commentator because he "just gets the feeling" every 2 overs. He also has a Ph.D. in "Stating the Obvious", as in "it becomes difficult for the team chasing when the asking rate goes too high", "if he goes for too many runs, he may be taken off the attack", "losing wickets tends to put pressure on the batting side", and similar priceless gems.

  • Abhiney on October 20, 2009, 12:06 GMT

    After ganguly, the other batsman which comes to memory is Shastri when it comes to hitting 'dancing dn the wicket shots' to sixes...... though Ii guess at the end like most of the Indian players, he unnecessarily prolonged his career without being of gr8 utility to the side......

  • anser on October 20, 2009, 11:41 GMT

    Ravi has played a few good innings as a bowler and also as a batsman. But most of the time he was an easy meat for Imran and Miandad as a batsman and as a bowler respectively. I admire his commentary where he excels others. Pakistanis bettered their averages against the bowling of Maninder and Ravi in that time. Kapil was the loan fighter. anser azim, Chicago

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