If there is one name in Indian cricket that brings out a lot of emotion, positive or negative, amongst spectators, it is that of Ravi Shastri.
Talent is God-given and people are born with it. I have seen in corporate world people with oodles of talent fade away in the business ladder. In cricket itself, those who scored a debut century never scored one again, until Gundappa Vishwanath came along.
Ravi Shastri combined his talent with innate grit and determination to get to the top. His multifaceted talent of man-management and communication skills would help him grow in different spheres in his career later.
Shastri is perhaps the only Indian player who has played at all positions in the batting order. Starting as a left-arm spinner and No. 11, he clawed his way up, step by step, and finally opened for India in Tests and ODIs. Only Sanath Jayasuriya has done this for Sri Lanka.
Shastri once proved he could face up to the fiercest bowling attack of his time when he squared up to Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Bruce Reid and Shane Warne to score a double century in the Sydney Test of the 1992 tour. That called for sheer grit and courage when most opening batsmen would cower facing such bowlers.
His all-round display in Australia in 1985 won him the Champion of Champions award in the World Championship of Cricket. Shastri was the best allrounder in a tournament that included Viv Richards, Richard Hadlee and Imran Khan. The whole team sitting on the bonnet and atop Shastri's prize car, an Audi, is still fresh in memory of those who saw the match.
It is the same gritty nature that made him lead Mumbai in Ranji Trophy and win it when the team's leading lights Sachin Tendulkar and Ajit Agarkar were doing duty for India.
Shastri was only the second cricketer, after Garfield Sobers, to hit six sixes in an over when he hit left-hand spinner Tilak Raj of Vadodara in a Ranji Trophy match in 1985. Only Yuvraj Singh and Herschelle Gibbs managed to achieve that feat later.
In 2014-15 India had a terrible tour of Australia losing 4-0, a complete whitewash. India also lost to Australia and England in the ODI tri-series. It was just before the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Then the magic happened.
Mid-stream on the extended tour, even without touching home and base, the battered team had a miraculous transformation. A thoroughly dejected and demoralized team, which was running and catching like crazy, thumped seven teams on the trot beating them by huge margins in the World Cup.
Shastri as Team Director had given a fresh lease of life to the team.
He was talking big to the media but nobody gave India even a ghost of a chance. Inside, he was encouraging and cajoling the team to give its best one more time. The team rallied around him and suddenly there was total transformation in the body language of the players.
They walloped all teams before failing only once in the tournament to hosts and eventual champions Australia in the semis.
A team thoroughly beaten in Test matches rediscovered itself mid-stream and gave a stirring performance match after match. In that, Shastri’s contribution is phenomenal.
Shastri and his team did an encore in the ICC World Twenty20 in India earlier this year before losing to West Indies in the semi-finals. Shastri was the man behind the team calling all the shots and took them to last four, their best performance in World T20 after winning the inaugural edition in 2007.
Shastri knew what worked best for the boys and provided a friendly and relaxed atmosphere in the dressing room.
His contribution after retirement, especially as Team Director, must be one closest to his heart in his cricketing career.
First Published: May 30, 2016, 10:03 AM IST