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.
In a match reduced to 35 overs per side after two rain delays, the home side posted a total of 240-7 before India were set a revised target of 255 under the Duckworth/Lewis/Stern method.
Rohit Sharma was run out cheaply and India lost Shikhar Dhawan (36) and Rishabh Pant (0) in the space of three deliveries, but Kohli was well supported by Shreyas Iyer as he produced a perfectly-timed innings.
Kohli hit 14 boundaries in his total of 114 not out from 99 balls, with Iyer smashing five sixes as he plundered 64 from 41 deliveries before chipping Kemar Roach to Jason Holder.
As good as Virat Kohli has been, Shreyas Iyer has been the pick of the batsmen in the partnership so far. Risk free cricket from Iyer and still scoring at 9.52 runs per over. He's played only 5% false shots, the lowest of all batsmen today. #WIvIND— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) August 14, 2019
Kedar Jadhav joined Kohli at the crease and made a quickfire 19 from 12 balls to help his captain get India across the line with 15 balls to spare and secure a 2-0 series victory.
After winning the toss and opting to bat first, West Indies made a flying start with a 115-run partnership between openers Evin Lewis and Chris Gayle, who was playing potentially his last ODI.
Wearing number 301 – his total of ODI appearances – rather than his usual 45, Gayle made 72 from 41 balls before being caught by Kohli from the bowling of Khaleel Ahmed.
As he walked off Gayle held his helmet up on top of his bat handle while the India players ran up to shake his hand, while he also led the teams off the field at the end of the match.
Gayle’s dismissal led to a significant slowing of the run rate and although Nicholas Pooran did make 30 from 16 balls, his team-mates struggled to score against some disciplined Indian bowling.
India’s win over the West Indies in the second ODI on Sunday saw skipper Virat Kohli register his 42nd ton in the format. but it was young Shreyas Iyer who took all the plaudits following the side’s 59-run victory.
The 24-year-old displayed impressive maturity and some excellent strokeplay in his 71-run knock at the crease after walking out to bat at No5 for India. It was Iyer’s third ODI half-century in six innings and was another timely reminder of the right-hander’s batting prowess.
More than the impressive numbers behind his innings at Port of Spain, it was the manner in which Iyer constructed it that proved once again why he can be the solution to India’s longstanding middle-order woes.
While Rishabh Pant once again failed to seize his chance in the limited-overs format with a rash dismissal in the second ODI, Iyer showed the value of an excellent temperament with his stay at the crease.
The Delhi Capitals skipper walked into bat after Pant had thrown his wicket away in poor fashion and quickly assessed the conditions to perfection before registering his third ODI half-century.
The confidence and authority exuded by him during his 125-run stand with skipper Virat Kohli was what stood out the most about Iyer’s approach during his 68-ball stay at the crease.
Shreyas Iyer looked comfortable & should definitely be persisted with. Has scored heavily in domestic cricket & India A level. Has done well for India too.— Sarang Bhalerao (@bhaleraosarang) August 11, 2019
Saw his double ton v Aus in 2017 (FC game)
Still feel he should’ve been part of the WC squad. #WIvIND
While India have been crying for some stability in their middle-order for a long period now, Iyer’s exclusion from the ODI squad in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup was baffling given the fact he had performed decently in his limited chances previously.
An average of 42 and a strike-rate of more than 96 in six ODI appearances are good numbers for any middle-order batsman around the world. Yet, Iyer was quickly discarded by the team management for the likes of Ambati Rayudu and subsequently Vijay Shankar after the tour of South Africa at the start of 2018.
India’s struggles in the middle-order, and particularly at No4, have shown no signs of ending ever since and that soft underbelly was exposed cruelly in the World Cup semi-final loss to New Zealand.
Iyer has for long been a consistent performer at the domestic level with averages of 52.18 and 43.15 in first-class and List A cricket respectively while he has put together a string of impressive displays for India A as well.
Despite not having the extravagant shots in his locker, Iyer still manages to strike at nearly run-a-ball and that quality is akin to gold dust for a middle-order batsman in ODI cricket.
“Brilliant,” Virat Kohli replied when asked to give his verdict on Iyer’s display on Sunday.
“Stepping in, not having played many games in the past, but I think he’s a very confident guy, he’s got the right attitude, and his body language was brilliant.
“Really good start for him, hopefully he gets another one.”
It is now time for Kohli and the Indian team management to learn from their past mistakes and give Iyer a longer rope to establish his claim in the middle-order. More inconsistent performers than Iyer have been given an extended run in the squad in the past to no success with the likes of Manish Pandey and KL Rahul being some of the biggest culprits.
Yet, Iyer has been overlooked time and time again and was the only member of the India squad who did not get a single game in the preceding T20 series against West Indies.
“I want to stay in the team for a while, the consistency is always important, I want to play well and contribute to the team,” the right-hander stated after his second ODI display.
The youngster will certainly feature in the final match of the ODI series that takes place on Wednesday but it is what India’s selectors and team management do with him after the tour that will be of utmost importance.
The next four-year cycle for the 2023 World Cup has begun and India must now give Iyer his due.