Ravi Shastri sketches cricketers past and present
Ravi Shastri is a well-known name in cricket for the new generation too, even though he stopped playing cricket in 1992. Besides being the coach for the Indian team today, his reputation has been built for being a levelheaded cricket commentator until he took over the coaching assignment. Known for his incisive and unbiased analysis, he did command respect from viewers.
In his book, Star Gazing, Shastri, along with Ayaz Memon, writes on several cricketers, starting from the ones he grew up admiring to the more contemporary players who he has been observing from the commentator box.
It is a good collection of write-ups on cricketers that will be of interest to cricket enthusiasts from all generations. Where he was personally involved as a player or commentator, there are nice reminiscences of specific bowling spells or batting episodes that readers can relate to well.
While he is very diplomatic in his commentary, which is to be expected, as this is all about cricketers he admires for various reasons, he steers clear of any controversy that some of the players may have been involved with.
Even for Greg Chappell, who had a fairly tumultuous relation with other Indian cricketers as a coach, Shastri talks only of his unsavoury mark on Test cricket when he asked his younger brother to bowl underarm, which was legitimate, though not fair. Other than that, he steers clear of any political discourse.
On another occasion, he talks of how he had chased Javed Miandad out of the Indian dressing room when he became unpleasant when the Indian team was celebrating. If the reader is looking to read more of such incidents, there would be some disappointment.
Shastri has been generous with his praise for various cricketers but the ones who would stand out in his ranking are Gary Sobers, for being the most gifted all-rounder, and Vivian Richards, the most feared batman. Both were from the West Indies and both were awe-inspiring. For sheer power with the bat, Clive Lloyd would get the applause. Here, there would be less debate as most enthusiasts who have lived through the years of cricket will not contest his picks.
Similarly, he is awestruck with Gundappa Vishwanath for sheer style and an effortless approach to batting, something the old-timers will agree with. There used to be a saying that whenever India won, Vishwanath would have done well.
Farokh Engineer was probably the first cavalier batsman who was liked by all and Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi a very astute captain. There are chapters on them as well.
He also talks highly of Richie Benaud, not so much as a cricketer but a commentator, and here again one cannot have a different view. What have been the two key takeaways from Benaud are that appearance is very important, and this is something Shastri has also been known for. When you look at a commentator one should be inspired and there was everything perfect about Benaud’s appearance, starting from hair styling to the tie pin.
The second is that as a TV commentator one should know that it is different from radio and should be less descriptive and more critical so that there is more perspective. These are two good lessons for anyone who aspires to become a cricket commentator.
Hopefully, the present lot of commentators should take a cue from this observation, as watching cricket can be jarring when the commentators keep rambling, saying the same things we can see clearly on the screen.
Shastri has clubbed the players under different sections like the ones who inspired him and the ones who he played with, who he calls ‘friends and rivals’. The common thread through all these stories is that while cricketers may be nasty on the field, which holds traditionally for Australians starting from Ian Chappell to Ricky Ponting, they change colour once off field and are always open to having a drink with the other teammates. This is a good trait in any sport where one differentiates on and off field.
There are others he has observed from the box that are clubbed separately and include several Sri Lankan players and South Africans, while the last section on the present players has his favourites like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ben Stokes, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson.
Shastri brings to the forefront some real good cricketers who are almost forgotten today, like India’s four great spinners Erapalli Anantharao Srinivas Prasanna, Bhagwat Subramanya Chandrashekhar, Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan and Bishan Singh Bedi —who had mesmerised the world in their heyday. They are covered in one chapter. He does the same for Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, who would rank as the first feared duo of fast bowlers who set the trend for a pace attack.
This is sheer vintage stuff with black and white photos added in good measure and the contribution of Memon can be found when the past players are covered. There is another chapter on Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Joel Garner, who were the unplayable West Indian bowlers who dominated cricket in the 1980s. There is ample credit given to Tony Greig, who brought not just life into the commentator box but also commercialised the game through the World Series Cricket franchise which was created by Kerry Packer.
While the coverage is quite comprehensive, surprising exclusions appear, like his contemporary Mohd Azharuddin, who was a classy player though had a controversial end, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Sandeep Patil and Navjot Sidhu. They are presumably inadvertent omissions that happen when the canvas is particularly broad. But it still makes this a must-keep book for all cricket lovers of all ages.
Madan Sabnavis is chief economist, CARE Ratings
Star Gazing: The Players in My Life
Ravi Shastri with Ayaz Memon
Pp 299, Rs 699