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Shastri backs Rahane's inclusion in WTC final squad: 'In a one-off, you need your most experienced players'

Shastri also tells ESPNcricinfo that he did not attend a single selection meeting during his stint as India head coach

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Ravi Shastri, the former India coach, is "glad" the selectors have valued Ajinkya Rahane's experience in picking him for the WTC final against Australia at The Oval from June 7-11. He underlined Rahane's desire to play first-class cricket and the runs he made there as one of the key differentiators.
Rahane captained Mumbai during the 2022-23 Ranji Trophy, where they narrowly missed qualifying for the knockouts. He made 634 runs in 11 innings at an average of 57.64, including two centuries.
A night prior to the BCCI announcing the Indian squad via a media release, Rahane impressed with a 29-ball 71 in a Player-of-the-match winning effort for Chennai Super Kings against Kolkata Knight Riders. Overall, Rahane's powerplay game and his six-hitting in the season has come in for appreciation.
"I'm so glad he's made it to the side," Shastri told ESPNcricinfo on the Ravi & Raunak Show. "He batted beautifully in these two-three games he's played in the IPL, has looked in great touch. And let's not forget the experience he has. The moment Shreyas Iyer was injured, you had to look in that direction."
"People think he's just played three IPL games and that's why he's in the side. They must have been on holiday for six months when he was playing first-class cricket. They must've been somewhere in the jungle where there's no contact with anyone in the world. When you go six months into a holiday, you miss those 600 runs."
Rahane's spot had been under scrutiny after runs dried up post his heroics on the Australia tour in 2020-21, where he led India to their second-straight Test series win amid several challenges posed by injuries and Covid protocols.
His previous Test hundred had come on that second Test of that tour as a stand-in captain, on Boxing Day in Melbourne, to help India level the series after they had slumped to 36 all out in an embarrassing loss in Adelaide.
Since being left out, Rahane battled a wrist injury that limited his IPL participation last year. Once he returned, he touched upon playing with freedom and without worrying about a comeback. Shastri compared Rahane's comeback to Cheteshwar Pujara's.
Pujara too found himself out along with Rahane after the South Africa tour last year, but prolific returns in county cricket fueled his return. He made eight hundreds - including three doubles - for Sussex across formats, last year.
"Absolutely, it's a one-off big game, like the Super Bowl, and you need your experienced player," Shastri said of Rahane's inclusion. "Don't forget just two-and-a-half years ago, the man won a Test series in Australia. He was the captain when Virat [Kohli] went [on paternity leave] and did a sterling job.
"People forget that hundred at the MCG, the way he played, and the fact that he's gone back to the grind. You saw what it did with Pujara, he went back to the grind playing domestic cricket, playing county cricket, just got the number of runs under his belt, then came back into Test cricket and performed. It's the same thing with Rahane, let's hope that experience comes handy."
Shastri didn't mince words when asked if chatter around Rahane's good form and his ball-striking may have been a factor in his eventual selection. "Oh, a lot, because the memory is fresh," he responded. "Domestic cricket was over two months ago. People might tend to forget it, even the selectors. Suddenly you come in and play that kind of innings where you look at ease, the timing is good, the footwork is good, the confidence is good, it would've definitely helped."
'Wasn't invited to a single selection meeting'
Shastri also opened up about his seven-year tenure with the Indian team across two stints between 2014-2021, first as team director and then as head coach. His last assignment was the T20 World Cup in 2021, before Rahul Dravid took over in November 2021.
Shastri categorically stated not having sat in a single selection meeting in this period, while also elaborating on why a coach needed to be there even if it wasn't in a voting capacity.
"I have zero first-hand experience [of attending selection meetings]," he said. "Seven years I was part of the team, I never went near a selection meeting. I wasn't invited either. I think in the long run, yes [a coach should be invited].
"You spend a lot of time with the boys, it's important, even if not in voting capacity, but to hear what the selectors are thinking, what is their train of thoughts are. And then to decide what could be the right thing for the side. I have zero idea how it starts, how it finishes, who are there in the meeting. From what I gather, there were a lot of people [in the meetings], over the last three-four years, inside selection meetings, not supposed to be there, against the constitution but pitched up."
However, Shastri did acknowledge that he had reservations attending such meetings for the possibility of players not opening up to him if they knew he had a say in selection.
"I needed the trust of the player," Shastri explained. "if a player knew I was a selector or I could influence a selector/chairman of the committee, then will he open up to me? Will he have the same trust in me? There could be a certain people who will come and still be open and upfront, there could be a certain people who might not want to, and I don't blame them because they may have some reservations.
"From my point of view, that's why I thought it's best to stay away, but in the long run, especially when a team is in the rebuilding stage, it's extremely important that a coach who spends a lot of time with the players within the confines of the dressing room can give some valuable inputs."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo