Ravi Shastri was surprisingly retained as India coach on Friday… said absolutely no one.
The Indian cricket board began the process of finding the next coach in July but it hardly took any time to realise that it was more of a formality.
By the end of last month itself, captain Virat Kohli had said he would like to see Shastri continue as coach. Before him, Anshuman Gaekwad – part of the three-member committee constituted to hire the next coach – said Shastri had a good chance of retaining his job. And this was before all applications had been received for the position.
Some of the best cricketing brains in the world applied for job – from Mike Hesson, Tom Moody to Phil Simmons. But in the end, it was Shastri who won the race. And it was always going to be him.
Indian cricket went through tumultuous times when Anil Kumble was appointed head coach in 2016/17 only for differences to emerge between Kohli and him. Many attempts were made to repair the relation but Kohli had made up his mind.
Kohli has an equally strong liking for Shastri and his style of functioning. The skipper, and presumably top players, are comfortable in the team atmosphere Shastri has created. Also, his overall stats as coach are more than respectable.
Under Shastri, India strengthened their grip on the No1 Test ranking and enjoyed an impressive run across formats. The men in blue won 45 and lost just 15 ODIs under him, while winning 25 and losing 11 T20s. In Tests, India had a 11-7 win loss record with a historic series win in Australia a great achievement.
At least Mike Hesson deserved that his name is spelt correctly :) https://t.co/R0eecIp13a— Chandresh Narayanan (@chand2579) August 16, 2019
But it is also a fact that India continued to fail at the big stage of ICC tournaments – the semi-final loss at recent World Cup the latest in a growing list. Also, despite enjoying early advantage, India suffered Test series defeats in South Africa and England last year.
One major issue that has plagued the India team over the last few seasons is inconsistent selection policies, especially in the batting department. Ambati Rayudu was infamously overlooked for the World Cup despite decent performances and public backing by Kohli in 2018. The team management has yet to finalise the middle order in ODIs despite spending two years on the problem.
Also, there were glaring selection blunders during the South Africa and England Test tours – like benching of in-form Bhuvneshwar Kumar after the first SA Test or selecting a second spinner on a greentop at Lord’s.
It’s only because India have a ready pool of 20-25 top class cricketers that the constant chopping and changing and lack of clarity isn’t hurting them more. When Kumble was in charge, selection policies were crystal clear with injured members of the playing XI walking right back into the team after regaining fitness.
Shastri has been given a two-year contract and the next big assignment for him will be the T20 World Cup next year and the Test Championship, which has already started. Maybe India will win the T20 crown and that will give the Kohli-Shastri combination the validity of a major trophy.
The other way to look at it is that this was the perfect time for India to pick a hard task master with a proven record – like Kiwi Hesson – and streamline its selection policies to make the best use of the abundant talent at hand. But the Indian management has decided to not rock the boat and maintain the dressing room atmosphere. Hopefully for Indian fans, there will a trophy or two at the end of it.