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Ravi Shastri had inspired his fellow players as a cricketer and as a captain during his playing days. Showing great character, Shastri’s influence rubbed off on the others and motivated them to raise their game. Nishad Pai Vaidya discovers Shastri’s influence on players in the past and what it potentially means to the Indian team in England.
Ravi Shastri has been an inspiring cricketing figure in many capacities. Though he wasn’t the most talented cricketer, he made up for it with exemplary guts to carve a successful career at the highest level. At a time when the Indians were not the best of travellers, Shastri was pushed up the batting order: he could have succumbed to it, but he did not, doing a more than competent job, averaging 44.04 as an opener. It was an attitude that rubbed off on his teammates and inspired some of them to challenge their limits.
Ask Sadanand Viswanath, the former India wicketkeeper. He was captained by Shastri on a Young Indian tour to Zimbabwe in 1984. A year down the line, both were a part of the World Series triumph Down Under, where Shastri inspired India’s victorious run. In a chat with CricketCountry, Viswanath had said: “Ravi Shastri was instrumental in getting many youngsters in that period. He was the torch-bearer for all of us and was someone we all tried to emulate. His gutsy character inspired the youth such as myself, Maninder Singh, Sivaramakrishnan to name a few.” Shastri had won the heart of a nation by helping India win and the sight of him driving that Audi is etched in memory.
Years later, after his international days were behind him, Shastri was leading a young Mumbai side in the Ranji Trophy. A Mumbai cricketer is typically gritty, mentally strong and has that never-say-die attitude unlike few others. Shastri personified that and inculcated that attitude in a dressing room full of impressionable young minds in the 1993-94 season. Paras Mhambrey and Amol Muzumdar were two youngsters who made their debuts that season and went on to serve Mumbai for many years to follow. That maiden season under his leadership left a profound impact on them.
“He is a great guy. Obviously, when you come into the side, you need someone to back you, give you confidence and be supportive. In tough situations then, he backed us to come good. I remember the Quarter-Final against Haryana at Faridabad that year. When we got to the ground, and we needed to see the wicket. Some of us walked out and I had a ball in hand. I just tried to check the bounce when the curator came out and said, ‘What are you doing?’ Ravi was in the dressing room and he saw that. He came out running and told the curator, ‘You talk to me if there are any issues,” Mhambrey recalls.
This incident has remained with Mhambrey ever since and reflects the kind of confidence Shastri showed in his young players. “He was my first captain and that stays with you. When you enter the side, you are nervous, don’t know what is expected and there is pressure. But, if you have someone like you, you get his backing. That attitude and confidence rubbed off on us.”
In the same match, a young Muzumdar made history by smashing 260 on First-Class debut. He remembers batting with Shastri during that mammoth knock: “It was dream come true. For any youngster who grew up in the 1980s, Ravi was a cult figure. He was named the Benson & Hedges Champion of Champions. To be a part of the side which was led by him was an honour. I used to visualise batting with the big players much before I made my senior debut. Ravi was very encouraging and was telling me to stay in the middle and play to my strengths.”
Mumbai went on to lift the Ranji Trophy that year despite having an inexperienced side. But, they were led by a man who showed them the way and set the tone for the years to go. Muzumdar picks that victory as his best moment with the team, “From team’s perspective, I think it was winning the Ranji Trophy in my first season was the best moment under Ravi Shastri.” That however, was Shastri’s last season in domestic cricket and he then took up commentary, a role he has fulfilled for all these years. But, when his country had needed him in the aftermath of the 2007 World Cup, Shastri rose to the occasion and took the side to Bangladesh.
Though Shastri has been a controversial figure in recent times (mostly due to his alleged support for N Srinivasan), there is no doubting his cricketing and strategic acumen and hunger to see India succeed at the highest level. As player and captain he had often lifted the player’s confidence and had left a huge impression on them.
In 2007, he quietly commenced India’s recovery after a forgettable World Cup. This time, the challenge is different as the big event is a few months away and Shastri has been given the challenge of picking up the pieces after a debacle in the Test series. Indian cricket would hope he does what he did with Mumbai in 1993-94.
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