“If it made him do something different, I’m glad because the way he was bowling in 2019 and the way he bowled in 2021 was chalk and cheese”
“One thing as a coach, let me tell you… my job out there is not to butter everyone’s toast,” Shastri said. “My job is, without agenda, to state facts and say the way it is. Ashwin didn’t play the Test match in Sydney. Kuldeep played, took a five-for, and bowled brilliantly. So, it was only fair that I give the young kid who is probably playing his first or second Test match overseas…and he bowled magnificently in that Test match. He bowled as well as any spinner overseas in that Test match. So, I said the way he’s bowled here, there’s every chance he could be India’s No.1 [spin] bowler overseas.
“Now if that hurt some other player, then I would say good. In hindsight, I’m glad I made that statement and Ashwin has made this statement because if it hurt him and he was upset, I’m glad the way he went about his job. I’m the kind of coach who will want a player to go inside and say ‘I’m going to show his coach I’m going to teach him a lesson and show him what I’m all about’.
“So, if it upset him, I’m very happy. If it made him do something different, which he did, I’m very happy because the way he was bowling in 2019 and the way he bowled in 2021 in Australia was chalk and cheese. I’ll go for the cheese any day. And by the way being thrown under the bus, Ash need not worry because I’d already spoken to the bus driver and told him to stop two feet short.”
Ashwin had actually been fine with the praise that was lavished on Kuldeep after that series. “I was happy for Kuldeep. I have not been able to get a five-for but he has a five-for in Australia. I know how big it is.” He was miffed that that performance was being used to say his time was over. “It’s an extremely happy occasion, to win in Australia. But if I have to come and partake in his happiness, and the success of the team, I must feel like I belong there.”
Also, when it was put to Ashwin in that Cricket Monthly interview that this all might have been a way to motivate him, he replied, “motivation is for those who need it. But when someone is going through a tough phase in life and needs an arm around his shoulder… that was a tough phase in my life.”
The Australia tour was Ashwin’s second curtailed Test tour in a row, and after suffering multiple injuries between 2018 and 2020, he revealed that he even contemplated giving up the game at various points.
But fast-forward to 2021 and Ashwin is at the peak of his powers, having delivered in the most recent tour to Australia and also at home. He now has 427 Test wickets and is eight shy of surpassing Kapil Dev’s tally. Shastri believed that Ashwin’s improved fitness has contributed to his upsurge.
“It was a message clearly to him that you’ve got to be fit,” Shastri said. “We need players to play the whole series. So, that happened in 2018 and 2019 again he was injured. So, what did he do after that in those two years? I think he’s worked harder on his game than anybody else and he’s world-class.
“Let me tell you he’s the best spinner in the world now. The way he’s bowling now and the way he’s worked on his fitness and if you look at the way he’s bowling of late, I think he has a great opportunity now that he’s the lone frontline spinner there in South Africa to go out there and win the series for India.”
According to Shastri, the change of Indian captaincy in ODI cricket could’ve been smoother with better communication. Virat Kohli said he was informed of his removal as India’s ODI captain just one-and-a-half hours before the selection meeting to pick the Test squad for South Africa.
“I’ve been part of the system for many, many years, especially [I’ve] been part of the team for the last seven years,” Shastri said. “I think, with good communication, this can be handled much, much better. Instead of it being out in public domain, it can be handled in much better fashion. So, if you look at things, as it stands now, all it needs is a little more communication.
“Virat has given his side of the story. It needs the president of the board to come and give his side of the story or give some clarification on whatever has happened. It’s not a question of who’s lying here. The question is: what is the truth? We want to know the truth and that can only come with dialogue and communication and nothing else… You need dialogues from both sides and not one side.”