RAVI SHASTRI
Caricature- Vasim Maner

Except for Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri played more ODIs than any of his peers when he started out in 1981. More than Gavaskar, Vengsarkar, Amarnath and Srikkanth. And later, except for Azharuddin, and even later, Tendulkar aside, more than anyone else either.

His 150 matches (144 completed games) yielded almost 4000 runs at an average of 36 and 129 wickets at 36 apiece and an economy of 4.2. This suggests he was a batsman who could bowl, but his economy rate was perhaps too good for that. There is no way to combine both these and trace his true place in Indian cricket.

Here is where Impact Index comes in.

AN IMPACT PORTRAIT

According to the Impact Index sieve, Shastri was the twenty-first highest impact batsman for India in ODI cricket (minimum 60 matches). Better known specialist batsmen from different eras had less impact than him – namely VVS Laxman, Mohammed Kaif and Ajinkya Rahane.

Interestingly, as a bowler, Shastri emerges as the sixteenth highest impact bowler for Indian in ODIs ever. And the fifth highest impact Indian spinner ever, after Kumble, Harbhajan, Ashwin and Jadeja. Bowlers like Roger Binny, Chetan Sharma and Munaf Patel had less impact than him.

Taken together, Shastri’s place in Indian ODI history gets sharper. He is the ninth-highest impact Indian ODI cricketer ever, and the seventh highest impact genuine all-rounder to have ever played for India – after Kapil Dev, Tendulkar, Ravindra Jadeja, Irfan Pathan, Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh.

FOR 4 YEARS, THE THIRD-HIGHEST IMPACT PLAYER AFTER RICHARDS AND KAPIL

It is curious that Shastri’s biggest performances commence from 1985 onwards. And though they are sprinkled till almost the end of his career (December 1992), his golden period was between early-1985 and early-1989. In those years (minimum 50 matches), he was, astoundingly, the third-highest impact ODI player in the world, after Viv Richards and Kapil Dev. Almost half (72 matches) of his ODI career happened during that phase. This is truly a phenomenal achievement.

He was the fifth highest impact batsman in this period, after Viv Richards, Javed Miandad, Dean Jones and Desmond Haynes. Curiously, his Strike Rate Impact then was better than the likes of Imran Khan, Desmond Haynes, David Boon, Martin Crowe, Md Azharuddin, Richie Richardson and Dilip Vengsarkar.

Remarkably, he was also the eighth highest impact bowler then – after Craig McDermott, Abdul Qadir, Wasim Akram, Imran Khan, Malcolm Marshall, Kapil Dev and Courtney Walsh. He had the eighth-highest Economy Impact and the second-highest Partnership-breaking Impact in the world then.

Taken together, his 21% failure rate as a player in that period made him the fifth-most consistent player in ODI cricket, after Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Steve Waugh (interestingly) and Viv Richards (predictably).

The highest impact performances of Shastri’s career are below. These include the two series/tournament defining performances of his career, starting with the most famous one.

The World Championship of Cricket, Australia, 1985. Even though India had won the 1983 Prudential World Cup in England, the ease with which a relatively unfancied Indian team swept past seemingly stronger opposition in unfamiliar conditions ought to be remembered more than it is today. Except the first game against Pakistan, Shastri contributed in every single one of the matches at the top of the order and with the ball. 51 against Australia after a tight 1-31 in ten overs, 3-30 against England after they were cruising at 126 for 3 to be bowled out for 149, 3-31 against New Zealand in the semi final and then 53 to set up a successful chase, 1-44 in ten overs in the final and then anchoring a successful chase again with an unbeaten 63 to take India comfortably to the title. It brought Shastri the ‘Champions of Champion’ title and famously, keys to an Audi that had the most high profile maiden drive by any car in that era. And his first Tournament-defining performance , where he had been consistent right through.

Vs Australia at home, 1986. Shastri came in to bat at 86 for 5, innings in shambles, which soon became 98 for 6. Still, he produced almost a run-a-ball 54 to help take his team to 193. His 2-23 in 9 overs played its part in destroying Australia for 141. India eventually won the series 3-2.

Vs Pakistan at home, 1987. The opening match in a series India lost 1-5. Captain Shastri came out to bat at 29 for 3. His 50 in 68 balls against an attack that included Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Abdul Qadir helped India reach a reasonable 193. From 61 for 1, Pakistan slid to 84 for 4 as Shastri took two wickets and later another one as he took 3-37 in ten overs. Pakistan won eventually by 3 wickets. Qadir got the Man-of-the Match even though Shastri’s impact was almost 69% more than his.

In the very next match, following his 21 off 13 balls in India’s 238, Shastri produced a tight 4-38 in 10 overs but Pakistan still won by 2 wickets, thanks to a Saleem Malik special.

Sharjah Cup, 1988. In the final against New Zealand, Shastri, now captain, came out to bat at 82 for 4. With time running out near the end, he produced an assault, somewhat upstaged by Kapil Dev’s 49 off 26 balls, but still eventually top-scored with 72 off 66 balls to take India to a highly respectable score (at the time) of 250 for 7. Then, with the ball, his contribution of 1-25 off 9 overs played an important steadying role as New Zealand fell short by 52 runs and gave India the title. And Shastri his second tournament-defining performance .

Vs Australia, Perth, 1991. India managed to set a target of 208. The Indian bowlers struck back and had Australia 68 for 5 when Shastri came on and finished them off with 5-15 in almost 7 overs, as Australia collapsed for 101. It was the first cue that all was not well with Allan Border’s side just before World Cup 1992. Australia would go on to beat India 2-0 in the final.

SHASTRI HAI HAI

Despite climbing such heights, Shastri was often booed for what was perceived to be slow batting. It wasn’t entirely misplaced as he did bat slowly at times, but there were often compensations for those from a team perspective, especially given he was stabilising the top order.

Ironically, in January 1985, Shastri became just the second batsman ever to hit six sixes in an over after Garry Sobers. Yet, sadly it did not break this particular myth.

Fact is, when we look at Strike Rate Impact , a truer measure than plain strike rate as the former accounts also for relative strike rates in every match, the results are interesting. The batsmen below him on this count include Mohinder Amarnath and Sunil Gavaskar (even though the latter has a slightly higher conventional strike rate). No one raised slogans about them. In fact, among recent batsmen, even VVS Laxman’s Strike Rate Impact is lower than Shastri’s, despite regular strike rate showing Laxman 71 to 61 ahead (an example of how the standards of its time are automatically factored in by Strike Rate Impact ).

Moreover, for someone considered to have a defensive mindset, Shastri actually turned out to be a tough-talking, attacking captain at the domestic level. Many still believe he was the best captain India never had.

After retirement (from first-class cricket at just 32), Shastri made a successful career out of television commentary too. Like his playing days, here too there have been many jokes around the cliches he tends to use (especially the overuse of words like ‘crucial’ and ‘tracer bullet’) but like before, that is not the entire picture. Before getting on the BCCI contract, Shastri was often a straight-talking commentator who said it like he saw it. Then, as the ‘Team Director’ of the Indian team, he was again the butt of jokes for his seeming bravado (manifesting in his current emphasis on phrases like ‘bullet team’), but that facade was the partial truth yet again.

Whatever opinion anyone may have about Ravi Shastri and his post-cricket roles, what he did as a player is there in black-and-white. Like with all Impact Index findings, examining the context of his best performances can help manually confirm most of what we have stated here. Anyone who remembers him between 1985 and 1988 should not be surprised at all.

 

 

Jaideep Varma

NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.