Ravi Shastri opens up on the alleged rift between India’s two top stars: Kohli and Sharma
Dubai The Indian team was under pressure after having lost in the World Cup semifinal. Team India coach Ravi Shastri, who has been handed an 18-month extension, has steered the Indian players out of the World Cup setback and guided India to an impressive win in all three formats of the game during the West Indies tour that followed.
In a candid, exclusive interview to Gulf News from Dubai International airport transit lounge, after the series against West Indies, Shastri spoke about how his skills as a communicator had helped the team tide over controversial situations following an uproar of an alleged rift between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma. He also revealed that he wants different opinions from his players and difference of opinions are bound to be there when planning strategies but labelling it as a conflict is utter nonsense.
How do you asses India’s triumph across all three formats in the West Indies, especially after having lost the chance to win the World Cup?
It was an excellent tour because when you consider the amount of cricket the boys played and the kind of pressures involved following the defeat in the World Cup, it was brilliant. They had an excellent World Cup, but they were disappointed to lose in the semi-final due to thirty minutes of play. So to get out of that disappointment and again play with that kind of intensity across all three formats in West Indies was very commendable. I can only say hats off to the guys.
How did the team regain confidence after the World Cup set back?
People don’t realise that this is the same West Indies team that had thrashed England three months ago. To beat the West Indies across all three formats in West Indies is special. A team going to the Caribbean and not lose a single game must be must be unprecedented.
Now that you have received an extension of two years, have you also got the support staff too that you needed?
There is a comfort factor for the boys with the support staff (bowling Coach B. Arun and fielding Coach R. Sridhar). They know the players as we have been with each other for five years. The new players can also adapt and adjust quickly. When you have continuity, it does help.
People say you being a good communicator has helped in carrying the team together? How much has that trait has helped the team?
I don’t like to be judging myself, but the fact is that I have been around for that long. I have been in the game four decades now. I was 17 when I played for Mumbai and played for India when I was 18 and I have not missed a single season either as a player because after that I became a broadcaster, then a coach and director of the team. So obviously having travelled and watched the game closely and having the exposure it does help. When you have that kind of experience it does help when it comes to man management and communication skills. Experience is not bought or sold in the market. You got to put in the yards to go the distance.
So there has been a lot of talk about differences between Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli. Did it happen and how did you handle it?
Listen, I have been around the dressing room for the last five years. I have seen how the boys have played and how they have complemented the team and know their work ethics. I feel it is absolute nonsense. I have been there with them and I know the way they play. If that was the case why would Rohit get five hundreds in the World Cup? Why would Virat do what he is doing? How would they have partnerships together?
Then, why did such an issue emerge and that there is indeed a conflict between the two players?
In a side when you have 15 players there will always be times when there will be opinions that will be different. That is what is needed. I don’t want everyone toeing the same line. You have got to have discussions and someone might then think of a fresh strategy which has to be encouraged. So you have to give the guys the opportunity to express themselves and then decide what is best. Sometimes it might be the junior most player in the team who may come up with a strategy which we hadn’t even thought of and we need to bring that to the table. So these should not be seen as a conflict.
So does this kind of news create any kind of problems in the team which is tough to handle?
When a team is playing in this fashion over five years it is important that you get behind the team and be positive rather than try and create any trouble. This kind of consistency I have not seen any time. This team has an opportunity to do great things. We have a legacy like the West Indies did the in Eighties and Australia did in the turn of the century. This team too has an opportunity to leave that kind of legacy and they are already doing it. Look at how we have performed in T20, one-dayers and Tests and even in the big ICC tournaments, it is unbelievable. People used to say earlier that we only perform at home and we don’t do anything abroad. Now they are saying the opposite as wherever they are going they are performing. I told the boys it is just half an hour of cricket that cost us a place in the World Cup final. We deserved to be in the final. I am not saying we should have won it, but having lost the least number of games not play in the final is unfortunate.
What do you have to say about the rise of Jasprit Bumrah who has emerged as one of the finest pacers?
Unbelievable. He is a terrific competitor, takes a lot of pride in his performance and it is amazing to see where he has reached in 18 months of cricket. He played in South Africa last year, his first Test in January, and today 19 months down the line what he has done across all formats is unbelievable. His two spells in the West Indies were mind-boggling.