World Cup 2019: Much ado about Shastri

World Cup 2019: Much ado about Shastri

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Ravi Shastri is probably the only celebrity cricketer in the world who has a better way with words than he ever had with the bat or the ball in hand. And these words have the tendency of rushing out of his mouth at speeds exceeding those of a tracer bullet, creating and closing controversies with consummate ease

A typical example is the team selection for the World Cup scheduled to kickstart in the next two weeks at the Old Blighty. Shastri, who took over as coach following an ugly spat that skipper Virat Kohli had with his predecessor Anil Kumble, kept reinforcing that the team auto-selected itself barring a few positions, specifically the number four on the batting card.

Over the past two years, the team experimented with a slew of players at this slot, ranging from KLRahul and Ambati Rayadu to skipper Kohli himself and his predecessor MS Dhoni. However, when the selection day dawned, the two options that were brought forth were those of rookie Vijay Shankar and veteran Dinesh Karthik, the beauty being that neither of them had actually trained for that position!

Now that the IPL is done and dusted and all eyes are turned towards the World Cup, Shastri fired another tracer bullet. “I don’t think so (that No.4 is an issue), because for me we are a flexible team. Its horses for courses, we have got enough ammunition there, enough players who can bat at 4. So, I am not really worried about that,” he told CricketNext recently.

Now, if that is the case, what were the selectors thinking when they kept changing personnel in the ODI and T20 teams over the past two years? Most top teams at the tournament had their top-11 ready two years ago. Traditional wisdom says that players are in a better frame of mind to take on big challenges if provided with stability and support from an early stage.

Okay, so there is nothing wrong with experimenting with resources, given that a certain Rahul Dravid has been churning them out through the Under-19 and India-A formats. The only problem is that what parameters did the selectors, the captain and coach follow while making these trial and error shows?

When Ambati Rayadu, KLRahul and even Ajinkya Rahane were in the mix, there were others silently making tons of runs in the domestic circuit as well as in the feeder line matches. A case in point would be Shreyas Iyer, who missed a good chunk of his team’s Ranji games last season but hit the straps upon his return from New Zealand with a blistering 178 of just 139 deliveries against Baroda at the Wankhede stadium.

The 24-year-old batsman, who had led Mumbai to the Vijay Hazare trophy in October last, almost did an encore with the Delhi Capitals, who reached within touching distance of their maiden IPL finals. In between these two tournaments, Iyer was consistency personified as he eschewed instinctive stroke play for a more controlled and mature innings building.

Keen IPL watchers would have discerned this tendency even during Shreyas Iyer’s batting during this year’s tournament. Maybe, it was the additional burden of captaincy that made him more circumspect. Whatever be the stimulus, the fact remains that he took over the sheet-anchor role for Delhi Capitals who had strikers right on top and below in the form of Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant.

Of course, Shreyas Iyer didn’t let go of his stroke-making ability even in this role. The manner in which he attempted to go for broke in DC’s last match against RR when the team required to score 116 runs in ten overs to secure a top spot on the table, clearly suggests that this Mumbai batsman has none of the “Khadoos” behavior that characterizes his mates.

From a purely strategic viewpoint, isn’t that what Team India requires? A batsman who can either build an innings around him or go berserk in case there are enough runs on board and the team is gluttonous for more. Rishabh Pant admitted to being upset over his omission from the World Cup team; poor Iyer didn’t even get asked the question!

Incidentally, Shreyas Iyer has an average of 42 from the six ODIs that he has represented India in. His highest score is 88 and the strike rate currently hovers around 96.

How come Ravi Shastri’s tracer bullet missed this target? 

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