Book review of Coaching Beyond – My Days with Indian Cricket Team
This is not a coaching manual. Not a biography. Or an autobiography. This is an honest presentation of someone who has been the fielding coach of the Indian Cricket Team for 7 years. Someone who started as a left-arm spinner for Hyderabad. Playing or not playing most times under the shadow of Venkatapathy Raju. Getting few chances. Yet, didn’t give up cricket. Thanks to Bobji M V Narasimha Rao and John Manoj, St. John’s Academy, he took up honing his coaching skills at 30. Equipped himself with the requisite training. And worked his way to coaching the Junior and then the Senior Indian Cricket Team. The recollection of his journey with the Indian team. The hits and misses. His thought process on various coaches, and various captains he had worked with, Dhoni, Kohli, Rohit, Rahane. Their attitudes, strengths, decision-making styles, communication skills, snd their handling of the team members.
While Ravi Shastri has been much maligned in Social Media, Sridhar’s factual account of Shastri’s stint is a very pleasant eye-opener. Shastri’s communication was his big plus. Straight. Brutally honest. Personalized approach to each player. Always the interest of the team first. Sridhar gives some very interesting episodes supporting this.
I shall dwell on just a few.
In 2016, when Virat was in a hurry to become the Captain of the white ball team as well, Shastri told him: “Look Virat, MS gave it (the captaincy) to you in the red ball cricket. You have to respect him. He will give it to you in limited-overs cricket too, when the time is right. Unless you respect him now, tomorrow when you are the captain, you won’t get any respect. Respect him now, irrespective of what is going on. It will come to you, you don’t have to run behind it.” To his credit, Virat took the advice on board and in a year’s time got the ODI captaincy too.
Or 2018, after the win at Nottingham, India lost the ODI at Lords. In the team meeting following the debacle, though Shastri’s words were meant for the entire team, he was looking straight into the eyes of MSD: “No matter who you may be, there should not be another occasion when we lose a match not trying to win it. it will not happen under my watch. And if anyone does it, that will be the last bloody game of cricket they will play under my watch. You can lose a cricket game. No shame in that, but you will not lose like this”. Sridhar records, to Dhoni’s credit, he maintained eye contact with Shastri, didn’t flinch, didn’t look here and there or fidget because one of his many admirable qualities is his ability to take the knocks, especially when he knows in his heart of hearts that he deserves them.
When differences cropped up between Virat Camp Vs Rohit Camp in the SM, Shastri called both of them to his room and said: “Whatever happened in SM, that’s all fine, but you are one of the most senior cricketers and this must stop. Put all these behind you and get together for us to move forward.”
Take this instance of how Shastri handled Shami in 2018 SA. Needing 241, SA were 136 for 3 at the break. Shami looked disinterested. Ravi lost his shirt after one glance at Shami’s plate of rice and mutton curry. “Bloody hell, will you satiate your hunger here itself or will you save some of it for wickets, too?”. Ravi took him aside and wound him up. Reminding him of Shami’s promise at lunchtime. Post-tea, Shami was unplayable, finished with 5-28 and India won by 63 runs. Shami entered the changing room: “Haan, merko aur gussa dilao aap log. Merko gaali do. Utna gussa nahi dilate jitna dilanaa chaahiye.” Precisely the reason Shami turned to Ravi when he had marital problems, “yeh maine kuch nahi kiya.” Ravi stood by him, arranged his people to take care of problems in Kolkata. When Shami failed the fitness test in Bengaluru before Afghan Test, he told Ravi “Main cricket chod dunga. Mera career khatam hogaya”. Ravi looked at him: “Acha phir tu cricket chod dena chahtha hai toh chod de. Lekhin karega kya chodke? Can you give commentary? Of course not, Can you get into coaching? No, you can’t. Padai Karega?. with a few expletives thrown in. And because of what’s going on in the media, no political party will be willing to touch you. All in the manner Shami understood. Ravi told him to forget about Afghanistan Test. “I need you in England”. Deputed a personal trainer and arranged a stint at NCA and in 2 months got Shami ready. Take a bow, Ravi. But for Sridhar’s honest account, many had a different Bacchanalian thought of your tenure.
Sridhar tells two interesting things. Why we had top-order batsmen like Sachin, Sehwag, and Ganguly also being successful with the ball? This comes right from their attitude to net practice. The top order finish their batting stint as the top bowlers do the bowling for them. But when middle to down the order batsmen come in to bat. the regular bowlers are tired to turn their arms. Sachin, Sehwag, and Ganguly who had a flair for bowling, did the honours to these while keeping in touch with their bowling skills.
The second interesting thing Sridhar points out is the attitude of young stars who just step into the big arena of Test cricket. Likes of Gill and Shaw. Since being stars at a young age, they were in a position to choose where to field. And find themselves at sea when they are positioned at the silly point or short leg (both require specialist fielders and regular practice). As young guns, their reflexes are expected to be sharper than most others on the team. He recalls an incident where the Indian team played a practice match outside Sydney. Shaw wanted to walk out of the field when a ball hit him. Captain Rahane from slip stops him midway, “ I saw you were hit on the shin pad. No drama here. Get back to your position”. Sridhar says youngsters do not show the same interest that they show in batting or bowling, in fielding.
Sridhar rightly points out that the neglect of grooming a No.4 for many years had cost the team badly in many matches. Not giving a decent run to many who were tried out in No.4. On why Ravi Ashwin is being dropped in overseas matches, Sridhar has a perfect take. Originally I thought of bringing it out in the review, but have decided that it’s best to read it in the book as narrated by Sridhar and the exact match that sealed his fate, perhaps.
The problems faced by the players during covid period, their isolation, the number of covid tests, and trauma. Everything was brought out in detail by Sridhar. This book is a wonderful reminiscence. More like the brilliant runout by Jhonty Rhodes. Or the throw from the deep by Colin Bland. The diving catch by Solkar. The agility of Venkat at gully. The majestic patroling of covers by Derek Randall. The all-round agility of Raina and Jadeja.
Get your copy. It’s a good catch.
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2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
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