The downside of life in a bio-bubble is loneliness and freedom of movement but for Ravi Shastri, the last months have created stronger bonds like never before among players along with a lot of conversations around what they all love- the game of cricket.
While the players have been in a bio-bubble, which is a highly restricted area since the IPL started in last September, the Indian team has been experiencing the bubble life since its Australia tour started last November and currently is in the bubble for the ongoing England series.
“There is no choice, there are restricted team areas, so you can’t go out, meet anyone and the same exists now,” Shastri said at a virtual press conference, a day after India thrashed England 3-1 to storm into the World Test Championship final.
“So if you want to get out of the room, go into a team area, where you meet other players, so what it’s done basically is, it has made players meet each other more often after playing hours.
“….and when you meet more often, somewhere down the line there will be conversations regarding the game, which used to happen in our time. Like when you finished the game, you would still be sitting the dressing room a good hour after the game, talking cricket,” the head coach added.
Players understand each other
Shastri also stressed that the bubble made the players understand each other better and discussed their personal issues.
“So, I think the best thing that has happened is talking cricket amongst the team members and they had no choice, so they were forced to do it and that’s been a big help,” he said.
Talking cricket has helped players understand each other better.
“They have gotten to understand each others’ background, mental state, where they come from, where they are in life, settled, unsettled.” Shastri believes that the kind of discussions that they had helped them grow a mutual trust and bonding.
“It allowed them to open themselves to their colleagues a lot more, discuss personal issues, you know more freely, win more trust from the team members, a lot of positives like you mentioned because of this bubble,” he said.
Empathy is another thing he feels that one needs to have in these difficult times like when they lost the ODI series first up in Australia.
“You had to be patient more than anything else. We started with two losses in Australia in ODIs. In normal circumstances, you can get straight to the point. You can be aggressive, you can make the most painful point with an individual and he’ll pull up his socks,” added 58-year-old Shastri.
But Shastri knew where they came from after being in lockdown for six months. “But I had made up my mind with my team management that we’re going to show empathy because for six months, a lot of the guys had not got out of their flats. No one lives in farms in India, some do, some don’t.” It was up to him to ensure the leeway that they got and how it was to be given.
“ I knew very clearly that it’ll take time. Now how much time do I be patient, that was my goal.
“….and it didn’t take long, because we were a week/10 days, two weeks quarantined, another week, two losses, three weeks, by the time the boys trained a bit and I knew we needed one result our way for things to turn around, because of the work we had done last four-five years as an Indian cricket team…,” he stressed.
And it all changed during the third one dayer as it was followed with a T20 series win and the historic Test victory that followed.
“This team takes pride in winning, this team doesn’t mind losing as long as they throw punches, so it was just a matter of being patient for that one switch of that result and it happened in the third ODI game (in Australia) through some brilliance from Hardik (Pandya) and Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja) and then you didn’t look back…,” he said.
‘Washington can perform the role I used to play’
Ravi Shastri was both Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev’s ‘go to man’ with his all-round abilities during the ‘80s and India head coach firmly believes that young Washington Sundar could play a similar role in the current Test team.
The left-handed specialist batsman, who also bowls mean off-breaks, scored three half centuries in his four Tests along with six wickets which includes prized scalps of Steve Smith and Joe Root.
Do you see glimpses of you in him? “I think Washy has far more natural ability than I had,” said the veteran of 80 Tests who had close to 4000 runs and 150 plus wickets.
“He has the ability and he belongs at this level and he can go a long way. If he could focus on his bowling (in Tests), India could have a very good number six for overseas conditions.
“Someone who can get you those 50s, 60s and 70s and then bowl for you 20 overs and can pick up 2-3 wickets. That was my role overseas (during whole of 1980s) and I think he can do that role easily,” the head coach said during a virtual press meet on Sunday.
Washington should start batting in the top four for Tamil Nadu across formats, suggested Shastri.
“Definitely, he should be batting in the top four for his state. There is no question about that. I would like to have a word with Tamil Nadu selectors or DK (captain Dinesh Karthik) for that matter. I think he should be batting in the top four,” Shastri said.
For Shastri, Washington’s innings of 96, coming in at 153 for 6 was a better effort than his 85 not out in Chennai.
“Washington Sundar, this is unreal. Facing some of the toughest bowlers in the world. I would say this innings was far better as the WTC was on line,” he said.
Shastri feels that he can relate way more with the Washingtons and the Rishabh Pants because he had also tasted overseas success as a youngster.
“At 21, 22 or 23, I had similar success, so I can relate to as I scored hundreds overseas. What you can never take away is exuberance of youth. It’s only when the baggage comes of being a known quantity and that’s when life starts.” And for Shastri, it couldn’t have been more satisfying than finding that Pant has understood the value he brings into this set-up with his match-winning abilities.
“Rishabh Pant, he came in after IPL with a lot of baggage and that showed in his size and he had to lose that (weight) which he did. He worked his backside off. I can tell you that he has trained harder than anyone else, and results are not just for him to see but for world to see,” Shastri said.
“A brilliant match-winner, playing to his potential and there is no greater sight than that. There won’t be many who would be able to do that in a lifetime,” said Shastri.
He was also happy for Axar Patel, who had lost out a number of years in international cricket due to injuries and saw others leapfrog him in pecking order.
“Axar Patel is a seasoned campaigner, I wouldn’t call him a youngster. He has been around the Indian team for years, very unlucky with injuries, other players have got opportunities because of his injuries, including the likes of Jadeja, Krunal Pandya,” Shastri was sympathetic for the man, who got 27 wickets in his debut series.
“….because he has been injured, now he was injury free and he made the most of it. Try thinking about India playing in India without Jadeja, one of the best all rounders in the world. He (Jadeja) didn’t play and someone else (Axar) did. “When the three (Ash, Jaddu, Axar) play together, it will be some fun,” the coach couldn’t hide his excitement.
India now has around 25 to 30 good Test players and credit to bio-bubble that the bench strength also got tested in adverse conditions.
“Because of bio-bubble, we have to move with a squad of 25-30 players. As a result you had to dig deep and find your best 30 players. As luck would have it, we had no choice but to play each 30 of them. And you found out who’s good and who’s not good.” Shastri said that if someone would have told him six months ago that Thangarasu Natarajan and Washington Sundar would make their Test debuts, he wouldn’t have believed.
“It’s a good headache to have and something that’s worked well, You could have never imagined the number of players who have played for India in last six months. Would you have thought Natarajan and Washington would have played a Test match? No way.” “These are things you wouldn’t have imagined but circumstances make it happen.”