MS Dhoni's retirement from Test cricket was a year-end bombshell. How did you and the dressing room take it
Shastri: I think we were all stumped.
Surely there must have been some indication of this; some words uttered in an unguarded moment, or his body language…
None. It came like a bolt from the blue. Not till after he returned from the post-match presentation did I come to know, when he had a quick word with me, then the players. I understand he had not even spoken to his family about it.
There are strong and differing opinions back home on his retirement mid-series. How do you see it?
Retirement is a very personal issue. But the best sportspersons know when it's time to go. Who is to question that?
So you agree with his decision?
It was an unexpected decision no doubt, but a courageous one. In my esteem, Dhoni has gone up by miles. He has not waited to complete 100 Tests and all such pointless statistical stuff. He did not want any farewell fanfare. That shows his character. He is different and quite remarkable.
But he could have played the last Test even if he didn't want to captain…
He felt that he is not doing justice to himself and the team. That should earn respect, not doubt.
There's been talk in the media here that Virat Kohli's rising influence - and your open support for him - changed the power equation in the dressing room and could have precipitated Dhoni's decision…
I've heard that trash. And it is just that - trash.
So there was no rift between Dhoni and Kohli even on cricketing matters?
You guys have no idea of the respect Dhoni commands, not just from Virat but every member of the squad, support staff and administration.
Is he still with the team?
He will be in Australia but not with the team.
There were reports that he is a standby for Wridhiman Saha…
If needed, of course.
Looking back, how would you rate Dhoni as a Test player?
There will be arguments that he was not the greatest Indian cricketer, but to me he was no less than anybody else.
What according to you made him distinctive?
The composure given his dramatic rise to superstardom, the way he handled egos as captain, the consistency of his performance and his total commitment to the cause of Indian cricket. In fact, the way he conducted himself over a decade in all aspects. But wait, you are making this sound like an obituary. He is still around and I think he has enough left in him to play limited-overs cricket like a king.
There will be a big cultural shift in the dressing room as Kohli takes complete charge. Dhoni and he are like chalk and cheese as persons. Is there a danger this could disorient the players?
I don't think so. In my days, I played under several captains, none of whom were alike. Captains have their own personalities and the best ones make players adapt to their thinking and methods.
Short-tempered individuals can also make the dressing room volatile. What actually happened between Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan in the Brisbane Test?
Some from your tribe should be writing screenplays for films. It is utter nonsense. Not a word was exchanged between the two. Let me add that Kohli has been part of the team for almost five years now. The boys are used to him. Several of them have played with him since their Under-19 days.
You've praised Kohli's aggression, but some of his comments about the Australians, particularly Johnson seemed needlessly provocative…
That's his personality. He is aggressive, passionate and wears his heart on his sleeve. But he's also prepared to walk the talk. Remember also, he's only 26 and still getting used to captaincy.
Despite the brave talk and overt show of aggression, India still lost the series. Does that not disappoint you?
Not at all. With a little luck, the scoreline could well have been different. This is a young team that has acquitted itself very creditably.
Australia are also in a rebuilding process with several young players…
True, but they have a far more experienced bowling attack which has been the big difference.
How do you see India's prospects in Test cricket going ahead?
There is hard work ahead no doubt. Primarily, we have to get or develop bowlers who can get 20 wickets regularly. But I am extremely bullish. The most important thing is we have got an aggressive mindset. Let's talk 12-15 months down the road.