‘I’ll perform till I quit’

Ravi Shastri prefers to be cool, least provoked by the public behaviour. He dismisses everything with a casual shrug. And he loves facing a challenge.

“The moment I feel I would be a liability, I will go out,” says Ravi Shastri.   -  V. V. Krishnan

India’s much maligned all-rounder, Ravi Shastri had a real job before him. A knee injury had forced him to return early from the tour of Australia. His selection for the World Cup depended on his recovery and he had to get back to match fitness fast. “I’ll give it (the left knee) a long rest and then leave the decision to the doctor,” quipped Shastri soon after returning home. Apparently it was a hopeless situation, with the risk of further damage to his knee, if he played a bit too soon. But Shastri was ‘hopeful’. The doctor said, “I saw him walking, without support, at the airport. I was convinced the damage to the rear part of the knee was not severe.”

Three weeks later Shastri was there for the test. The Chairman of the selection committee Naren Tamhane, co-selector Ravinder Chaddha, and Orthopedician Joshi formed a three-man committee to take a decision on Shastri’s fitness for the World Cup. In a little over half an hour, Shastri batted, bowled and sprinted. And he was passed fit.

 

To the threesome who conducted the fitness test, everything seemed satisfactory and they also trusted Shastri. “I am eager to catch up with the rest and raring to go,” Shastri said before he left the Braboume stadium.

It was a question of belief and trust in a man. But soon after Shastri was “cleared” by the Cricket Board for the World Cup, doubts about his fitness were once again raised. This was not the first time Shastri had been in the midst of a controversy regarding his fitness. Some doubts were raised after he was made the captain for the tournament in Sharjah in 1988. But he proved his fitness on the field then.

In recent years, Shastri has been the butt of criticism of the public. Is his negative approach to batting to be blamed? Or is it because of his inability to get wickets? Or just that “they (spectators) simply don’t like him.”

Shastri prefers to be cool, least provoked by the public behaviour. He dismisses everything with a casual shrug. And he loves facing a challenge.

Yes, in just over a decade that Shastri has been around in international cricket, he has carved a niche for himself. In this interview Shastri talks about his achievements. He also throws some light on what happened during the World Cup.

Question: Why were you kept out of the Indian playing XI in the World Cup after the matches against England and Australia? Was it because of a recurrence of the knee injury?

Answer: I would put the last World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, down as history. All I remember of the World Cup is India not even qualifying for the semifinals. As far as I am concerned I have always been an optimist. I only remember the good moments of my career. Okay. The World Cup was one of the bitter tournaments in my cricketing career. And I would like to forget it.

Do you think it would have been wiser to have stayed away from the rigours of the World Cup considering the severity of the knee injury?

No, I think it would have hurt my conscience if I had stayed back. Maybe if I had been looked after properly I would have gone through the World Cup with reasonable amount of success. Well, here is an instance. I ran 54 of my 58 runs in the first match against England. There was only one boundary in that innings. And imagine, I did this not having held the bat for one month, and that too facing the bowlers on the fastest pitch in Australia in Perth. Come on... I ran 54 runs. Well Allan Lamb did not even play till the semifinals, but thereafter he played. And we guys had too many experts sitting outside and telling us what to do. No, to be honest... we had experts sitting outside and telling whom to pick, whom to drop and what to do and this and that. What did Pakistan do? They did not meet with much success early on and still they did not change their side. They stuck to the same side, maybe they changed the batting order... and then look at what happened. They are the World Champions. They did not panic.

Even after losing to India they did not panic. They picked almost the same XI for the next four games. What I believe is you should not panic. Okay, I can understand if we lose by 50 or 60 runs. Against England it was a very close match and it was unfortunate that against Australia three overs were reduced. We lost by one run. So you are not batting badly. I mean there has to be a change of luck.

I mean if we had won three we were in. And I will tell you that no team would have liked to play us had we been in the semifinals. There were enough experts with Pakistan saying do this and that. But Imran stuck to his plans, led the team he wanted and what... got the results. They did not panic.

You said, you were not “looked after properly.” Can you be specific on this point?

What I mean is I got 50 plus in the first match after a one-month lay off. I ran 54 runs including a couple of four runs with Sachin. I did not need a bicycle and I was not on crutches. I bloody well ran almost all of the 58 runs against England.

So it was a question of being dropped from the team after the two matches against England and Australia.

Yes, dropped. Let me put it that way. Maybe I was not good enough.

It’s been a long break since your return from Australia with no cricket at all. Any visits to the doctor during the intervening time regarding your knee?

Not really. After coming back to India, all I have had is rest. I said to myself I have played 12 years of non-stop cricket. I have been a 11-month cricket player. I thought it’s time to enjoy a break. And that’s what I did. I went off for a holiday in the Far East. Whether we had won or lost, I had planned the summer holiday.

So how enthusiastic are you now, at the start of another season?

With my last Test innings being a knock of 206 in Sydney (he also took four wickets in an innings in the match) I am jolly well enthusiastic. There are not many guys in Indian cricket who have such a performance. If I can do that in my last Test game, there is no reason why I can’t do it again somewhere down the line.

You turned 30 recently. How do you look at the future?

Well, I would say I rather be 30, which I am, than be 26 or 27 years of age. Because of experience you are playing the best cricket at this point of time. And that’s exactly what my case is. In fact the last few years have seen me bat at my best. And I intend keeping it that way. With a little bit of luck, if you are not injury prone, there is no reason why you can’t keep performing in the future, too.

In which direction will Ravi Shastri’s career go now?

I can see myself being able to perform at the highest level for at least another four to five years. Ravi Shastri, the cricketer, may sound a little different. If he is not performing at that level of cricket, he doesn’t intend hanging around there. When he has played for 12 years performing against every opposition in their own countries he should be a performing cricketer. And if he is not a performer, he will go. No question about that.

Why did you say “Ravi Shastri may sound different”?

I said because my attitude may be different from the others. It’s simply because I like to perform at the international level. If I am not able to, I will make the task easier for the selectors. I will perform till I finish my career. Because I would like to look back and say I have done well against all kinds of opposition. The moment I feel I would be a liability, I will go out.

Having played 14 years of first-class cricket where would you put yourself in the Indian cricket hierarchy?

Well, I would put myself and rate myself very high in the order of Indian cricketers. Having done well in India, and abroad I see myself pretty high there.

In batting you have met with success, but your bowling has been untidy in recent times. Your comments?

I got a Test match hundred in almost every year of my career, except in 1987. That reflects my consistency. Actually I am enjoying the role of an opener. I love facing the new ball. As far as I am concerned it’s one of the toughest jobs in international cricket — opening the innings. I am talking of the modem era from the 1980s onwards when the four-man fast bowling format started. And getting runs as an opener in this era has to give you job satisfaction. It’s tremendous. Let me say that opening the innings and getting runs abroad give you more satisfaction than anything else. I have always been a student of batting and I have on many an occasion changed technique. The secret of my success as a batsman at the highest level is due to my ability to adapt. And that’s exactly what has not happened with my bowling and I am very disappointed with it. But in these six months, I have had time to think it over and I have noticed a couple of genuine technical flaws in my action which can be rectified.

Did you in recent times confine yourself to batting, not really being there in the bowling forefront?

Till I finish my career I would like to continue bowling and do it successfully, too. Because I am someone who loves to be involved in the game all the time and I have had success at various stages of my career with the bat and ball. I bowled a lot until 1988, but in the last four years I have not done justice to my bowling. I am the first one to admit that. I am disappointed, unable to attain the standards I have set for myself. I have just been unable to sustain my bowling.

Well it could happen to any cricketer who plays all through the year. It’s bound to happen, you are a human being afterall. I remember Gordon Greenidge telling me five years back that, “Ravi, you have played so many Tests and one day internationals in seven years. One day you will realise you are a human being, not a machine.” Well. Gordon had played 14 years of cricket then, and I knew what he meant saying that.

“I would put the last World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, down as history.”   -  V. V. Krishnan

 

I guess I realised this in 1990 during the County circuit. I was just going through the motions. It did not mean much to me, I was not gaining anything. In the first three years of County cricket I learnt whatever I had to. So the fourth year was a bit of a drag, though it was my best season. I thought the break now would do a world of good.

Would you have accepted an offer from a County or Club in England?

No I don’t think so. I would have opted out, simply because I needed rest. But the only good thing about English cricket is you are in touch with the game. The moment you come to India you are straightaway in the groove for the domestic tournaments. Now it will take a while before I get into good nick. But at the end of the day if your fundamentals are strong you are going to get into form sooner, than later. This is the first time in almost 10 years when the domestic season has started in August, so one could be a bit rusty.

Your record is — 76 Tests, 115 innings, 3,760 runs, highest 206, 11 centuries, 12 fifties, average 37.22; 15,391 balls, 148 wickets and average 40.72. Does this record impress you?

My batting record pleases me. Don’t forget I batted 8, 9 and 10 in the order in my first 15 to 20 Tests. And coming up the order and being a successful opening batsman makes me proud. I take pride in my performance. As a bowler, yes, disappointing, especially in the last five years.

I remember bowling for those four years from 1983 to 1987. I doubt in about 70 or 80 one day internationals if I gave more than 40 runs in more than two games. That was the standard I had set for myself, but since then I have not been able to deliver the goods as a bowler. The way you look at, it could be due to me opening the innings. Suddenly my concentration totally shifted to batting. It is a specialist job and you’ve got to be performing all the time. But I guess this year I am going to work my backside off.

Averages don’t mean anything to me. But in the first three or four years it was batting all over the order. Its only in the last three years I have been taking guard as an opening batsman. I think I should be averaging 70 or 60. And almost all the Tests were played abroad, only one Test was played in India (against Sri Lanka in Chandigarh). We have played in West Indies, England, New Zealand and Australia.

You admit you are disappointed about your decline in bowling in the last five years. Do you have the confidence to come back and capture wickets?

I have discovered some technical flaws in my action, and there had to be a flaw because I found myself struggling. But I have found it out and going to remedy that aspect. There is one word called “experience” which cannot be bought or sold in the market. If I get into the groove as a bowler I can bowl to anybody. If I can bowl successfully to a side which had Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Clive Lloyd... what the hell... I mean you should be able to bowl to anybody.

Look, what happened in Australia was unfortunate. I had really worked very hard on that tour. I bowled many, many hours in the nets and was trying to get everything back. But one week after the Sydney Test I had an injury like that.

Can you tell us something about the Sydney effort?

Mentally and physically I had put in tremendous work on that tour. It paid off finally in Sydney, both as a batsman and bowler. I was the only spinner and I had to bowl on the fifth day on a pitch which afforded some assistance. That effort gave me satisfaction because at no stage I thought I was batting badly, apart from earlier on during the tour when we were short of practice.

I batted for an hour in the first innings of the first Test before getting out to a bad shot. And thereafter I got three good deliveries after having batted for two to three hours in each innings. I batted for hours in Brisbane to get 43 which was the top score in the Indian second innings. After batting for such a long time, you make one mistake and you are gone. So I knew luck had to change at some stage and when it did change, I cashed on it. You cannot miss out on those ones. So I was really disappointed when that injury occurred. I mean we had our backs to the wall 0-2 down, losing the Tests in under four days. And it’s not the best thing in the world for a touring team. And to come back out of it and almost win that Test in Sydney was a tremendous performance by a team. And I was annoyed because I could not participate in the last two Tests. I thought I could have got 500 runs in that series. Adelaide has probably the flattest pitch in Australia.

You see, the Australian bowlers — McDermott, Reid and Hughes — were more experienced compared to what they were six years ago. It was like playing Kapil Dev in his first year and then after five or six years. Kapil and Manoj bowled brilliantly. Even Srinath was superb. Had our batting clicked we would have beaten them. There was no Australian batsman in form, except David Boon, in the series. Our bowlers did not allow the Aussies to get away. None of their batsmen looked like getting a hundred. I mean Australia is not a great batting side as it is made out to be.

If we had some more runs on the board, they would have struggled. Only if we had had the benefit of some more practice before the series there could have been a change. Because in Australia the pitches are a lot more bouncy and suddenly you realise you cannot stick out your front pad as you do in India. You have to play more off your back foot.

How do you intend to cope with the South African tour?

Well, I think one month of domestic championship followed by a camp before the tour to Zimbabwe is fine. Players are going to be rusty with the season starting in August, but there is nothing like match practice and everyone is going to get that. And the camp will be of immense benefit.

Personally I want to get runs in Zimbabwe and South Africa. I want to get runs as an opener on that trip. Against all the top bowlers of the 1980s I have got runs. So Ravi Shastri will be telling himself “Come on, go and do it.” If you have got runs against Imran, Akram, Holding, Roberts, Reid, McDermott so why not prove yourself against Allan Donald and Co.

England had Micky Stewart as cricket manager, he has now been replaced by Keith Fletcher, Pakistan has Intikhab Alam. Australia has Bobby Simpson and Sri Lanka Duleep Mendis. Do you think the Indian team needs a cricket manager?

Yes, we definitely need a cricket manager. He should be a person who aspires to be one. He should be able to do the job. And he should be given a two-year contract to be reviewed subsequently. It could be an experienced Test cricketer or one who has played first-class cricket in India the hard way. I think people like Chandu Borde, Bishen Bedi, Ashok Mankad and Anshuman Gaekwad can do a good job.

This article was published in The Sportstar of September 5, 1992