‘IPL is a monster of a property'

Passionate about cricket...Commentator and presenter Ravi Shastri with Muttiah Muralitharan.-K. PICHUMANI

“T20 is what will help cricket grow. It is the only form that can make cricket a global sport. Twenty-five years down the line if cricket makes it to the Olympics it will only be in the T20 format,” says Ravi Shastri in a chat with Vijay Lokapally.

He is the face of cricket on television. He describes the nuances of the game as a commentator, does presentations, expert analysis and probing interviews. In short, Ravi Shastri breathes cricket. And he has been doing this almost without a break since 1994 when he retired from active cricket.

A modest cricketer in terms of talent, but with a tremendous will to succeed, Shastri was a true professional. ‘Champion of Champions' in one-day cricket, he also made a huge impression as a Test cricketer. Starting off as a tail-ender, he worked his way up to become India's opening batsman against the pace battery of the West Indies in the 1980s. His eyes twinkle as he recalls that glorious phase of his career (80 Test matches and 150 ODIs).

In his childhood, Shastri loved imitating the commentators. Rising early to catch the splendid commentary of Alan McGilvray of Australia, the young Shastri had made up his mind to take up a similar job.

Shastri played with a lot of passion. And now, at 47, he confesses to being actively involved with the game.

A player who was unpopular for his slow batting, Shastri achieved the rare feat of hitting six sixes in an over in first-class cricket. He was the coach of the Indian team for a brief period and was also involved with the National Cricket Academy (NCA). He is one of the few reliable consultants for cricket administrators in the country.

In this interview with Sportstar, Shastri shares his views on several aspects of the game.


Question: How do you look at the transformation that cricket has undergone after the introduction of T20, especially the Indian Premier League (IPL)?

Answer: We saw it happening in the first year of the IPL, and I thought everyone was quite amazed. We saw it in the second year and people appeared more amazed. From what I have seen this year I think it has beaten both the previous years. The excitement, the buzz, the following, is unbelievable. It has become a monster of a property.

What kind of future do you see for cricket?

I think the sport needed this injection. You saw the dwindling spectators at Test matches — you needed something different to happen to make more people watch the game, to make more countries follow the game, to make youngsters from all the cricketing nations want to play the game. And it will only help Test and 50-overs-a-side cricket in the long run because the aspirations of a youngster when he comes in now would be to take the next step, which is to play for the country (in 50-overs-a-side and Test cricket).

What if you were a youngster today?

I would have pursued the normal form of the game. My advice (to youngsters) would be to learn the game properly. If you are a good Test player and if you are a good student of the game, you would be able to adapt and adjust — there is no doubting that at all. Play the game normally and then enhance your skills.

What changes have you seen after the advent of T20?

I think it's business. It has attracted more and more people who want to know more and more about the game and are eager to play it. The money that has come into the game from all quarters has made even Test cricket viable now. You will not make that kind of money in Test matches, but everybody knows that's the ultimate form of the game. You needed this entertainment. You needed the game to evolve, otherwise you know it would have stagnated big time.

Do you think the game was stagnating?

Of course, it was stagnating. Hence 50-overs-a-side came in the 1980's and helped Test cricket. It began to stagnate again; it looked boring until T20 came along.

Sound technique...Sachin Tendulkar and Jacques Kallis. (below)-PTI

What about a corridor for the IPL as most players have been demanding?

There will always be a corridor for the IPL. It is an Indian domestic league, make no mistake. But it has become so big now that you want players from all parts of the world to come and play in the IPL. Even the players want to come and play in the IPL. It is big because you play in front of full houses. The cricket is good, the bucks are good, and that, to me, is the bottom line. As a professional cricketer you want to play. The question that will have to be answered by the ICC (International Cricket Council) is how to balance 50-50, Test cricket and the IPL.

Is 50-overs-a-side cricket dying?

Not in India. Every 50-50 match commands a full house, people just love limited overs cricket. What it has done is got more people to watch cricket. I now see people at the grounds with their families. Now, the interest to watch starts at a very young age. The kid enjoys what he sees, and then he wants to be a part of it. Once he is part of the IPL he wants to play for the country which is very good.

Will cricket ever become a global sport?

T20 is what will help cricket grow. It is the only form that can make cricket a global sport. Twenty-five years down the line if cricket makes it to the Olympics it will only be in the T20 format. It is a short form of the game, takes only three to four hours. Please remember that the attention span of the people is diminishing, patience is not there. T20 will help cricket develop in different countries of the world.

Is there room for technique in modern cricket, especially with so much T20 being played?

Technique is very important; it still counts. Look at the leading run scorers in IPL-3 — they are all players with good technique. Look at (Sachin) Tendulkar, he has hardly slogged. (Jacques) Kallis has hardly slogged. People who have tried to slog have failed because the bowlers are getting wiser. At the end of the day you have to get down to the basics. It is all about timing the ball, playing late and finding the gaps. Yes, power hitting is needed, but it cannot be power hitting from the outset. It is basic cricketing skills that matter. It is not that Tendulkar has changed his game. He is just timing the ball well and scoring consistently and freely and as quickly as anybody else. You need the power hitters lower down the order to change the course of the game. New shots are being invented and attempted, which is good for the game. The positives that have come out of T20 are the much improved standard of fielding and the running between wickets.

What about the bowling standards?

Bowling standards are bound to suffer because of the amount of cricket being played today. That is why I have always believed that if India has to do well in all the three formats you need a pool of at least 30 players. In my days we did not have so much of cricket as we have today. That was the reason why I played county cricket just to keep myself match-fit. But cricket then was not as strenuous or difficult pressure-wise as it's today. Sometimes I feel sorry for the players because they are under intense scrutiny all the time. Every game they play is a pressure game. It is going to take its toll on the bowlers unless you separate them — for Tests, 50-50 and T20. You need a pool of 30 players since they will all want to play IPL because of the money involved. That you can't stop. It is an era of professional sport and you cannot stop anyone from making his choice. We are a democracy. At the end of the day it will be the player's hunger and desire to play for the country that will see him through.

What does a youngster dream of when he comes to the NCA?

So, how do you protect Test cricket?

Test cricket will stay and thrive but it needs some changes. I believe, in the long run, it will be a four-day format with a limit on the number of overs a side plays in the first innings. So you get results in four days! The skill aspect will not be taken away. Say a maximum of 140 overs in the first innings.

That's lot of overs. Even if you go at three per over you score 420. Give a little more for the bowlers. Increase the short stuff, maybe by one more an over. Make it a total of three bouncers, with two to a batsman instead of one–one. Things like that could make it an even contest. Help the bowlers and not just the batsmen.

How do you groom the youngsters at the NCA? Do you teach them to be role models, good citizens, ambassadors of the game? Do you teach them how to handle success and how to deal with the media, how to overcome distractions?

Yes, all of that. We are doing a lot at the academy. I am so impressed with the way the academy has gone forward. If you get a chance, please make a trip to the academy to see for yourself what we do. It's not just a clinic for treating the injured. There is work there for the umpires, for the coaches, and of course for the players.

Is there emphasis on a standardised style of coaching so that the youngster is not confused when he returns to his state coach?

All the state academies are in sync with the NCA now. The methods of coaching have been standardised. Lots of top yesteryear domestic players are part of the coaching scheme. But they have to pass Level III.

How do you manage to give so much time to cricket? You say that you have so little time for yourself?

I think it is my passion for the game. It is a fact that I enjoy cricket so much. I am a professional. If I did not have the passion I would not have the energy or the drive to do what I am doing. I don't do it for the sake of it. I do my reading, my preparation. There is something new happening in every session, every match, so you can't drop your guard.

Do you prepare for your assignments?

Yes, with the same commitment that I used to prepare for a match in my playing days. I keep analysing myself. It helps. I know if I am speaking too much or too less by the tone of my voice. I read a lot on all sports; I read newspapers, magazines. It helps me improve my vocabulary as well. I listen to other commentators too. I have always believed that you are a student all your life and you have a chance of learning something new every day, provided you are enthusiastic enough.