In an exclusive interview with CricketNext after the Galle Test, Shastri held forth on ‘being back’. As ever, he pulled no punches.
How much of what you do is about improving skills, and how much is it about enabling players to find their own solutions?
I don’t call what I do coaching. I know I’ve been appointed coach, but it’s more fine-tuning, more man-management. It’s what a captain does, basically. It’s just an extension of that. All those qualities you need to be a really good captain come into play here.
If we look at your own career, you went from the high of a double-century at the SCG to being out of international cricket (with a knee injury) in less than a year. Does that provide a lesson for you as coach?
The setbacks helped. They made you think in a different fashion. When another guy is going through a similar problem, your experience helps you assist that other bloke get over that.
This group of players seem to swear by you. In the past, some illustrious names have failed as coaches because they couldn’t inspire the same kind of trust…
I’ve always believed that the dressing room is like a temple, church or mosque. What happens there stays there. It’s one place you can open your heart out as a player, and discuss things that you would not discuss anywhere else. And it’s just the players sitting there when that happens. There has to be an element of trust. Without it, you go nowhere. The qualities of a good human being come into play here. The bottom line is that you have to come in without any agenda, or pre-conceived ideas. The focus has to be just on the job you’re entrusted with.
How does it feel to be back?
When people say ‘congratulations on getting off to a winning start’, I ask them: What start? I’m just carrying on from where I left off, as simple as that. It was like walking back into a room and releasing the pause button. Nothing else.
Does it help that the core of the team remains the same?
Each one of them knows me. There are one or two new players now, but that’s not a problem at all. The nucleus of the team is the same, and it’s a team I was part of. They were really down when I took over [as team director] in 2014. They climbed up to No.1 just before I left, and they were on a great run at the time. And they carried that on in India.
How do you look at what lies ahead? You can’t think of a harder sequence of away tours.
That’s the best part of this job now. The toughest cricket is coming up, but with that is the awareness that this team has a chance to do what no other Indian team has done – win a series in South Africa and Australia. These guys have got the wherewithal, the ammunition. With the quality of players we have, if we get it right, we could do that.
The last time we were in Sri Lanka, we won for the first time in 22 years. A lot of top Indian players didn’t win a series in Sri Lanka. Don’t put it past them to do something special in South Africa and Australia.
Tell us about the captain-coach dynamic, and the need to be reading the same chapter, if not the same page?
It’s the most important thing. If there’s no communication and captain and coach are not on the same wavelength, it’s not going to happen. For me, it’s very simple. We [Virat Kohli and I] know each other. I’ve been in the Indian dressing room for 18 months prior to this. You know your roles.
The captain is the ultimate boss. He takes the team on to the park. Your job is to get them in the best frame of mind to go out and express themselves. Play a brand of cricket that’s fearless and enjoyable, not just for themselves, but for those watching.
You can’t go out and field over there. You can’t bat. Your job is to prepare them. After that, the captain calls the shots.
First Published: August 2, 2017, 10:16 AM IST