Gelling well and that’s good news!

There are good vibes in the relationship between skipper Virat Kohli and team director Ravi Shastri.-PTI

In the true guru-sishya (coach-disciple) tradition, Virat Kohli has struck a wonderful tandem with team director Ravi Shastri. They rate each other highly and the compliments have flown thick and fast in their respective interviews to various publications. If the two can revive the very best of the times gifted to us by Wright-Ganguly and Kirsten-Dhoni, Indian cricket will be well served, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

A generational shift has seeped into Indian cricket at least in Test whites and Virat Kohli has an unenviable task of guiding the team while M. S. Dhoni continues to be at the helm in ODIs. Pertinently, in the longer version, the Indian squad will entirely have Kohli’s unfettered imprint, which can be drastic and dynamic at times — like stepping into the lone Test against Bangladesh at Fatullah with six batsmen and five bowlers while Cheteshwar Pujara got dropped!

Remarkably, and in the true tradition of Indian history steeped in the lore of guru-sishya (coach-disciple) ethos, Kohli has struck a wonderful tandem with team director Ravi Shastri. The former India captain and a leading all-rounder of the 1980s, had to shift from his suited-booted avatar as a television commentator to the rough and tumble of a team environment and cope with the cut and thrust of international cricket. Just like in his playing days, Shastri never flinched when asked to guide the squad as its director during last season’s England tour, ahead of the ODIs. Since then, he has never looked back.

He bonded with the team, dispensed his indomitable spirit and forged a strong equation especially with Kohli. Much later when Dhoni surprised all with his retirement from Tests during the Australia-tour, Shastri was still around to lend a shoulder to Kohli. He didn’t step back when his mentor Sunil Gavaskar criticised the team’s doesn’t-matter-if-we-lose-as-long-as-we-try-and-win philosophy.

Shastri dug in his heels, vociferously backed Kohli’s men and it seemed a moment that marked another visible shift in the dynamics of Indian cricket over the last two decades.

The combinations, Wright-Ganguly (above) and Dhoni-Kirsten (below), were pathbreaking ones.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

If John Wright and Sourav Ganguly lifted India from the blight of match-fixing woes and performance-anxiety and began to challenge the very best — ask Steve Waugh’s Australians — Gary Kirsten and Dhoni propelled their merry troop to number one in Tests and World Cup glory. The subsequent Dhoni-Duncan Fletcher alliance shockingly scraped the bottom with soul-crushing losses in England and Australia.

India began to ponder over life beyond legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman, who were on their last legs and also suffered a body-blow when the intermediate generation — Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Gautam Gambhir — fell by the wayside with either form or fitness issues. It wasn’t an easy space to be in and predictably Dhoni had to walk into press conferences that had a funeral feel. Harbhajan has made a comeback but it is still premature to comment whether he has cemented his spot.

Dhoni was the last link for the present group with its predecessors and when he too bowed out of Tests, an umbilical cord was cut.

Strangely, India was ready to cope with his mighty exit and it was thanks largely to the Kohli-Shastri combine that paid its respects to the past masters but firmly had one eye on the future. Yes, Dhoni’s absence will create a huge vacuum in the Test XI, but Kohli while admitting to ‘feeling strange,’ knew that he and his men had to move on and who better than Shastri to pep them up?

AP

Shastri may overwhelmingly find his image resting on his two-decade long commentary outings but for the uninitiated drawing solace from play-stations, European football and Twenty20 bashes, it must be told that he was a remarkable cricketer, who with his grit and bloody-mindedness made up for any minor chinks in his talent. He batted from number 11 and all the way up to the opener’s slot with centuries in the West Indies and Australia, to name a few, embelleshing his credentials. In his prime, he was also a niggardly left-arm spinner and crucially he was feted for his leadership skills that sadly got displayed in just one Test owing to an injury to regular captain Dilip Vengsarkar in 1988 (Shastri won that match in Madras against Viv Richards’ West Indies).

More importantly, after hanging up his boots and switching to the microphone, he kept in touch with the game, remained friends with Tendulkar and also kept a tab on domestic matches by surfing the net and often dropping into the press box to chat with sports writers.

He was always clued in and the 53-year-old, now tipped to take over as India’s head coach provided he and the BCCI finalise a mutually agreeable contract, could well be the ideal shepherd for Kohli. They may be split by their age-difference or their inherent cricketing talent, but as personalities they are similiar. Both play hard, love to win, have no qualms about having a chat with the opposition and they always walk the talk.

During India’s 1992 tour of Australia when substitute fielder Mike Whitney warned batsman Shastri: “Don’t step out, I will break your !@#$%^& head,” the tall Indian retorted: “If you were so !@#$%^& good then you wouldn’t be a !@#$%^& 12th man!”

Surely Kohli will identify with that spirit plus he, now, and Shastri, then, were the poster boys of Indian cricket. A vast horde of women nursed their secret crushes, in the past for Shastri and now for Kohli. The two also have their Bollywood links, dating actresses and coping with the resultant scrutiny. In a sense, both are alike and live life on their own terms.

But if Kohli the batsman, excelled in Australia with four tons and India played a fighting brand of cricket despite losing the four-Test series 0-2, Kohli the man needs some advice.

His run-in with an Indian scribe even if it was a case of mistaken identity doesn’t fit well for a national skipper. Shastri, well attuned to the media, can surely guide the youngster, still coming to terms with the pitfalls of being a celebrity, in future on this aspect.

For now, India held the aces in a rain-affected drawn Test against Bangladesh and should hold its own in a season that has an ODI tour of Zimbabwe, full series in Sri Lanka and a home-run against South Africa. If the paper-work is finalised between the BCCI and Shastri, Kohli will be overjoyed but he will know that a large chunk of responsibility rests on his shoulders as a young bunch tries to chart a new path and build on the achievements of Tendulkar and company.

It helps that Shastri and Kohli rate each other highly and the compliments have flown thick and fast in their respective interviews to various publications. If the two can revive the very best of the times gifted to us by Wright-Ganguly and Kirsten-Dhoni, Indian cricket will be well served.