End of an era: Ravi Shastri leaves with his own Tracer Bullet mark on Indian Cricket
Ravi Shastri leaves with his head held high after a glorious period of five years with the Indian Cricket Team
Despite being a dead rubber, only a sad reminder of India's untimely demise at the T20 World Cup, the last Super 12 game against Namibia carried heavy emotional overtones. The Champion of Champions Ravi Shastri will no longer be on the dugout of the Men's national cricket team and he now leaves behind a unique imprint on Indian Cricket history where he has previously served with much distinction in several capacities.
That's not to say the journey has been all merry. That couldn't be further from the truth. Even on his last day as the head coach of the side, there's a section of the Indian fanbase that is opposed to giving Ravi Shastri his due credit simply because of the image he stands for: he drinks alcohol, he favours Virat Kohli, he's unabashed and straightforward.
While all of that might be true and form the basis of completely different discussions, not even the staunchest critics can deny that Ravi Shastri lacks personality. That word 'personality' is key here while also describing the team that he has overseen, managed, and built in his image over the past few years.
The dizzying heights in all-whites
In August 2017, when Ravi Shastri took over the job from Anil Kumble, he was asked about his exact role and what he was looking to add to the side. "My role is to be in charge of the entire support staff and make sure that we get the boys in great mental space to go out and express themselves with nothing else on their mind; but to go out and play a brand of cricket which you have seen India play over last three years, that is positive and fearless."
"How will you go about achieving it?"
"That's the skill. That is the reason that you are there and I am here." Although the quip might've sounded discourteous and even rude back then, it has proven to be nothing but true with the passage of time.
In his capacity, Ravi Shastri not only motivated the side, but he also removed outside influences and noise surrounding the players to make sure they perform at their optimal levels. Shastri was never shy of offering himself to the frontline as the fodder for criticism and trolls if it meant shielding his own players.
That badge of confidence, faith, and trust permeated through the entire group and resonated in the mindset of the cricketers whenever they went out to perform. Even dreaming of defeating a world-beating Australian side at the Gabba in red-ball cricket would've been closer to baloney than reality, let alone doing with half of the seniors injured and with the addition of a couple of net bowlers.
But the Gabba heist and the Sydney blockade were not distant dreams. They were the products of the incredible hard yards put in behind the scenes by Shastri and his staff. From never winning a Test series on Australian soil to recording back-to-back victories speaks volumes about the impact the former cricketer has had on this team. An untimely breakout of COVID in the camp stopped the side from etching further history by defeating England in England but Virat Kohli's men will get the opportunity to finish the job next year.
Along with captain Kohli, Shastri managed to assemble what is certainly the greatest Test side in the history of the country. The focus was shifted back to the bowlers and under bowling coach Bharat Arun's guidance, they became the backbone for the success of the Indian side. India played 43 Tests under Ravi Shastri and ended up winning 25 Tests, drawing 5 and losing 13. Sure, the ICC World Test Championship victory might've eluded them but assessing two years of competitiveness with just a single fixture is quite misleading.
From pushing for Rohit Sharma to open in Tests to ensuring proper fitness protocols were in place for India to actually have fast bowlers who could bowl 140 plus regularly, from backing Rishabh Pant and managing the expectations around him to planning to bowl mid and leg-stump in Australia and making sure it worked even with half the senior side out injured anyway, the list of Ravi Shastri's hits are too long to be touched upon here.
Although he has also made his fair share of mistakes such as trying to shoe-horn Hardik Pandya as an all-format all-rounder and dropping the likes of vital cogs in Pujara and Rahane for important series, Shastri's tenure with the Test side, especially away from home will be looked back upon with a sense of generation-defining greatness.
Only Australia of the late 90s and early 2000s and West Indies of the 1980s are the true comparisons for this team which is not only a great Indian team but are one of the greats.
Will the lack of an ICC trophy be his defining legacy?
'But India haven't won an ICC trophy under him,' has been a constant complaint regarding the Ravi Shastri era in cricketing circles. It's true that for all of India's incredible resources, access to a rich talent pool, convenience brought about by the extraordinary rise of the IPL, there has been no material success to show for it in ICC tournaments.
The wait for an ICC trophy continues for India who haven't won since 2013. The recent World Cup group stage exit has done little to soothe those woes. While both Ravi Shastri and departing T20I captain Virat Kohli would've loved to end on a high, that fairytale ending remains incomplete.
With that being said, India's record in white-ball bilateral cricket is quite enviable. Under Shastri, they played 140 limited-overs matches and ended up winning 93 games. On his watch, India won T20I series in South Africa, England, New Zealand, and Australia and they also affected whitewashes in Sri Lanka and West Indies.
It's true that India were outclassed by New Zealand in both the 2019 World Cup semi-final as well as the World Test Championship Final but it is also true that on both of those occasions, weather, conditions, and luck played a massive role. While it's hard to detach those outcomes and the results from the process, may be an objective lens will lend a deeper perspective about the all-format greatness of the Indian side led by Ravi Shastri.
Not about what you accomplish, it's also about what you
In his own farewell speech, he made sure to point this out to his players. "You guys as a team have overexceeded my expectation with the way you've played. Over the last few years, to go across the globe, across all formats and beat everyone makes you one of the great teams that have played the game. Not a great Indian team, hear me out. This will go down as one of the great teams that have played the game. The results are there to be seen!
"Yes, we didn't have a great tournament [T20 World Cup]. We could've won one-two ICC tournaments, didn't happen. But that is sport. You'll get another chance. You'll be wiser, you'll be more experienced when the next opportunity comes," Shastri summed up.
Meme-makers, trolls, and lazy critics may paint Ravi Shastri as this ignorant drunkard who somehow landed the Indian job and has not done anything to push the initiative, but the Champion of Champions is anything but. There's also a fair bit of philosopher and thinker in him and on his final farewell address, it came out and greeted his terrific bunch of cricketers.
"The most important thing in life it's not all about what you accomplish. It is what you overcome which overrides everything else!"
There may be more afternoons of horror of 36 all out and ICC semi-final heartbreaks but if there's anything that this Indian side has taken from Ravi Shastri, it's the unique ability to overcome any challenge when put into a tight corner. On to you now, Jammy!