Shastri: Orgasmic to beat Pakistan

 

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Category: Profiles Date: 21 Apr 02


His six-feet-four-inch frame lay supine at the Trinidad Hilton poolside, taking in some sun, a casual star, in shorts and a T-shirt, shades jauntily pushed up over a cap.

 

It was Ravi Shastri, who reached the peak of his career in 1985 in Australia as an all rounder for India, now a cricket commentator for ESPN Star and TWI (Trans World International) beamed over Asian footprints to some 300 million or more people around the world.

 

Bluffing wildly, unwilling to show the extent of my ignorance over the game, I kept my first question when we sat down to talk.

 

“Tell me about yourself” I asked, only to be stumped with: “What do you want to know?”

And in that hour I discovered his boyishly cheeky patina was simply the top layer. He shot to the top but knew what it was to fall, and get up again, and that recognition of human fragility gives him that edgy determination to squeeze every drop out of life with gaiety.

 

When I asked him to describe the injury that cost him his career, he reached over and poked me under my knee, but so disingenuously I couldn’t take offence.

 

Ravi Shastri, whose father is a doctor and mother a history and political science teacher, would have been a doctor if he had listened to his parents, but ended up playing cricket for India because his talent for the game in school and college was so dramatically brilliant, all career paths blended into one wide road - international stardom as a cricketer.

 

In no time, he was playing for India non-stop, breaking records, scoring centuries in Pakistan, and Antigua. He said: “If you could make over a hundred runs against Imran Khan, Holder, Marshall then your career was made.”

 

In India, cricket is like religion. The crowds’ adulation is unreal, but if you don’t live up to their expectations their disappointment can be brutal.

 

Although Shastri does see cricket as a means of achieving healthy camaraderie with Pakistan, it is also a sacred emblem of nationalism. Without blinking an eyelid he elaborated recklessly: “Every time India won Pakistan, it bloody felt like an orgasm, yaar (friend).”

 

He regrets India no longer plays Pakistan, but says the Government of India understands the security risks better than he does.

 

The dashing cricket star who had been linked to various Bollywood heroines, married in 1990. Life couldn’t be better.

 

He refused to divulge names, but admitted: “In terms of ego, I was placed on top of a tree. I was on a perpetual adrenaline high, but it was also a learning curve. I had to cope with jealousy.”

 

In 1991 when he was on a high, (having just scored a double 100 in a Test match, being the first Indian to do so in Australia) “the most chilling moment of my life”, he injured his posterior crucial ligament while playing.

 

The doctor told him bluntly his career was over. He battled on, but finally quit in 1994 after repeated injuries, at the age 30.

 

But cricket was in his blood, a part of his soul, and a combination of luck - India was going through a television boom - and talent, got him back on the road again, as a commentator.

 

“Commentary is similar to playing cricket. You require the same skills. Fierce concentration, work ethics, discipline.

“There is no margin to make mistakes when you are being heard by over 300 million people. You can’t use commentary to voice your opinion if it is not justified. If you slip up, you’re written off overnight.”

 

The Indian Cricket team, despite Tendulkar, has a reputation for playing like lions at home, and sheep abroad, buckling under pressure. And West Indian cricket, despite Lara, has dropped many notches, been a disappointment.

 

He said of the Test match being played here:

“Indian cricket, like West Indian cricket, is at a crossroads. India has the making of a great team with payers like Rahul Dravid, Anil, and Tendulkar. But it is mainly a psychological battle, a problem of confidence abroad that the Indians have to overcome.

“The West Indian team is nowhere near the calibre of the 1980’s when to get a draw against players the like of Richards, Marshall, Holdings, was a victory. But they too are in transition.”

 

So, the teams manifested in Lara and Tendulkar (both dubbed as the worlds top batsmen) and the fact their glory days appear to be behind them rather than immediately ahead, appear to be evenly matched?

 

Naturally, Shastri hopes India will win, while acknowledging it is difficult to beat a team on home ground.

 

Equally, he respects the fact the Indians of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago are West Indian and will support their region for this series.

 

And that, to me, summed up the nature of the man, Ravi Shastri and cricket: a manifestation of nationalism, a display of excellence, discipline, and resilience, while pushing the boundaries, but also about teamwork, reaching out, and being a good sport.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur