The joke’s not a one-off. It stands on a series of perspectives if Shastri’s career as manager-director-coach-head coach between 2007 and now is threaded together.
India returns from the 2007 World Cup after a shock first-round exit, Shastri is asked to head to Bangladesh as manager; the same year Kapil Dev quits as director of the National Cricket Academy (NCA), Shastri is asked to fill in; the BCCI starts the Indian Premier League (IPL), Shastri is asked to come on board as member of the governing council; BCCI begins setting up its own production team, Shastri is asked to become the ‘voice’ of Indian cricket; the Indian team is going through a miserable tour of England in 2014, Shastri is asked to give up on his commentary assignment and work with the Indian team without a contract; In 2017, Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli fall apart and the latter says he wants to work with Shastri, Shastri has to apply for a ‘job’ before a panel.
The joke has been in the making for a whle. And yet, each time the man got more than his share of responsibility, he catered to it with all his heart and attention. Every time Indian cricket needed him, he was around.
Just like his playing days, when he batted in all positions, opened on tours where ‘bigger’ batsmen shirked, held his head high on the most memorable of occasions – always the Champion of Champions.
Shastri is done with his final two-year stint as head coach of the Indian team. Nobody knows what he’ll do next – coach an IPL franchise? Go back to commentary? Do a bit of this, a bit of that? But the Indian cricket fraternity does realise one thing, he’ll always be around when they need him.
He’ll still be the coupon to encash.
The outgoing coach’s greatest achievement will not be the idea of instilling the culture of winning Test matches abroad, especially in Australia – a country against which he averaged 77 as a batsman. That’ll be his second greatest.
The greatest has been his ability to soak in all the negativity spewed at him over the last four years. The man with the beer belly, the man who loves his drink, the man who loves a party – social media has trolled Shastri like he was always around to be messed with. India win, Shastri’s saying ‘cheers’. India lose, Shastri’s drowning his tears, getting ready for the tipple.
Back home, where his mother, wife and daughter have all his attention when he’s away from the cricket – they all stayed privy to these ‘jokes’ day in and day out. He would laugh at them, and they laughed with him.
“It’s okay if they can crack a joke and laugh at my expense. I’m happy if they’re happy,” he’d say each time a new troll came up with a new ‘meme’.
“Chalta hai yaar (It’s okay, mate…)”.
But never once did he allow this negativity to get close to the team. It stopped at him.
Fiercely proud of his boys, who trusted him like a friend, Shastri wouldn’t let go of anyone who tried the same ‘trolling’ antics with members of the Indian team.
“Don’t get anywhere close to my boys,” he’d thunder.
It’s not a joke when you read out the numbers. Won 24 out of 42 Tests (57%); 53 ODIs out of 79 (67%); 43 T20s out of 67 (65%). The overall winning percentage across all formats for five years stands at 65%.
That’s no laughing matter. A man who loves living the good life, Shastri’s been everybody’s friend, not just in Indian cricket but around the world.
Ask any former cricketer of repute and they’ll tell you what it means to have a ‘chat’ with Ravi on the game.
“Indian cricket has given me whatever I am today. And it has given me a lot. If I can be of any use to Indian cricket, I’ll never say no,” he says.
He’s willing to continue being that coupon Indian cricket can encash.