'I hated Miandad's guts'

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

Interview by Sam Collins
Ravi Shastri in action during a Tournament in Sharjah, January 1, 1987

The other side of the obdurate Ravi Shastri  •  Getty Images

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
This article first appeared in the October 2009 issue of the Wisden Cricketer. Subscribe here