The Indian cricket team navigated numerous highs during the tenure of Ravi Shastri and his support staff, comprising Bharat Arun, R Sridhar, Sanjay Bangar and later Vikram Rathour. Though the unit couldn’t lay their hands on an ICC trophy, back-to-back Test Series triumphs in Australia and a dominant performance in the 2021 England tour will be remembered as some of their best services. Their stint ended after the conclusion of the T20 World Cup 2021, where India failed to make it to the knockouts, but their stories are still entertaining the cricket fans across the country.
Former fielding coach R Sridhar’s newly-released book, ‘Coaching Beyond: My Days with the Indian Cricket Team’, has been the talk of the time for quite a while now. In one of the chapters, Sridhar revealed that he had a sleepless night after facing Shastri’s wrath during his early days with the team.
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The incident refers to the 2015 World Cup in Australia when Shastri introduced a small pre-game exercise where every player would come up and speak about his game plan.
“Ahead of the World Cup, Ravi decided that the players would speak at the team meetings. That at every meeting, the batters would speak of their game plans, how they would approach different situations, what their plans are for each bowler in the opposition. After that, all-rounders Ashwin and Jadeja would hold forth, and at the end, the fast bowlers would express their thoughts. It was a very good system, I felt, because ultimately it was the players who had to perform out in the middle,” Sridhar wrote.
While the ex-fielding coach was in favour of this exercise, he had opined that practicing it too much might kill its impact. He conveyed the same to Bharat Arun over a phone call ahead of India’s clash against South Africa at the MCG.
“We had a similar exercise the day before the game against South Africa at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. That evening, I was at my old friend Noel Carr’s place in Melbourne for dinner when I got a call from Arun, asking for my views on this new introduction. I knew I could speak freely to Arun, so I told him, ‘It’s a great concept, but we should be careful how often we do it. It’s a golden goose, we should not kill it. If we do this before every game, its effectiveness will diminish. I feel it’s better if we have such sessions before key matches,” he added.
Sridhar had zero idea that Bharat had put the call on loudspeaker and Shastri too was listening to it. The head coach got furious over Sridhar’s idea and called him a ‘novice coach.’
“I didn’t know, of course, that I was on speaker phone, that Ravi was listening in. I was fairly new to international cricket, and Ravi and I didn’t really know each other all that well. Apparently, he wasn’t very amused by what he heard. ‘Baadi,’ he thundered, referring to Arun by his nickname, ‘I told you these young coaches have no idea what I am doing. I had told you at the very beginning not to recommend such novice coaches. I was rattled. I knew there was merit in what I had told Arun, but I was unnerved by Ravi’s reaction and didn’t sleep very well that night,” he recalled.
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The next day, Sridhar had a sigh of relief after India defeated the Proteas by 130 runs and Shastri appreciated his efforts which were eventually reflected by the players on the field.
“The next day, we turned in a brilliant performance in the field, we out-fielded South Africa for the first time. David Miller was run out, A.B. de Villiers was run out, thanks to great efforts by the fast bowlers, and we took all our catches. Ravi turned to me in the dressing room and said, ‘Sri, great job. The way you have worked on the fielders is awesome. I was mighty relieved. He had completely shed his ire of the previous night. And although he had been angry at the time, he did take my suggestion on board. Only when he felt each one had to know the others’ game plan before a big game did he have inclusive, extended meetings thereafter.”
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