Ravi Shastri said if his remarks directed at Ravichandran Ashwin during the Australia tour hurt the off-spinner, then he was ‘happy’ to have made those comments. Defending his tough-love style of coaching, the former Indian cricket team coach, who was the guest at The Indian Express’ eAdda on Thursday, said he had no agenda while picking a player.
“My job is not to butter everyone’s toast. My job is to state facts without agenda,” Shastri said, adding: “If my statement on Kuldeep (Yadav) hurt Ashwin, I’m glad I made that statement. It made him do something different.”
In a recent interview with ESPNcricinfo, Ashwin spoke about his disappointment when, after a Kuldeep five-for against Australia in Sydney in 2019, Shastri called the chinaman bowler “India’s No. 1 overseas spinner”. “In that moment, though, I felt crushed. Absolutely crushed,” Ashwin had said, mentioning that he felt like being thrown “under the bus”.
Shastri’s response to this was pretty tongue-in-cheek. “About throwing Ashwin under the bus, he need not worry, because I had told the bus driver to stop two-three feet short.”
On a serious note, he elaborated on the thought process behind playing Kuldeep in Sydney and that the statement was made to encourage a young player. “Ashwin did not play the Test in Sydney and Kuldeep bowled well. So it’s fair I give Kuldeep a chance. If that hurt Ashwin, I’m very happy. If your coach challenges you, what will you do? Go home crying and say ‘I won’t come back’. I, as a player, would take it as a challenge, to prove the coach wrong.”
The former India captain stressed the fact that everything was done by keeping the best interest of the team in mind. “In my seven years with the Indian team (as team director followed by the head coach), I had absolutely zero agenda in picking a player. If someone had to take the heat, he had to take the heat for the team,” said Shastri.
One of Ashwin’s complaints was about Indian cricket being insensitive to his injuries, the knee and groin injuries he had suffered between 2017 and 2019. The offie felt like he was judged differently to his teammates.
The Indian team management, however, had given a clear-cut message to Ashwin in 2018, that he had to be fit to last a full series. “The message to Ashwin in 2018 was that he had to be fit. He has worked on that and look how he is bowling now. He is world-class. The way Ashwin bowled in 2019 and the way he has bowled in 2021, it’s chalk and cheese,” said Shastri.
Back in 2018, Ashwin was outbowled by England’s Moeen Ali on a wearing surface in Southampton, as India lost the Test. Over the last year, he has taken 62 wickets in 10 Tests, including 12 scalps in three games in Australia. Three years ago, however, he had contemplated retirement.
For Shastri, as a coach, a lot of emphases was put on man-management and handling the players’ egos in a positive way. “Egos will be there, it’s about how you channelise those egos. Therein lies your man-management skills,” the former head coach opined.