Team India head coach Ravi Shastri’s last major tournament in charge before his current contract expires ended in a disappointing 18-run loss to New Zealand in the ICC World Cup semifinals at Old Trafford in Manchester on Wednesday (July 10). Some critics, including former India captain Sourav Ganguly, blamed Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s demotion in the batting order as one of the reasons for India’s shock loss.
However, Shastri explained that the strategy to hold Dhoni back was a team decision.
“It was a team decision. Everyone was in with it — and it was a simple decision, too. Last thing you wanted was Dhoni coming out to bat early and getting out — that would have killed the chase. We needed his experience later. He is the greatest finisher of all times — and it would have been criminal to not make use of him in that way. The whole team was clear on it,” Shastri was quoted as saying in an interview to Indian Express.
”And Rishabh Pant did look pretty secure when he got out to bat, even against (New Zealand fast bowler) Trent Boult, didn’t he? You could then say that if Pant had continued and not got out… but that’s sport. You grow up in quick time. He will learn, he already knows it."
“But I am happy that the team showed spunk. They didn’t give up even after losing Pant and Pandya. What a fightback that was,” he added.
Shastri praised Dhoni’s composure throughout the run chase until he was run-out after a brilliant piece of fielding by New Zealand’s Martin Guptill in the penultimate over.
“He (Dhoni) was magnificent. The composure in the situation. And let me tell you, if not for that unfortunate runout, I think he had his calculations going inside his head. Which ball to hit, how much to keep for (James) Neesham’s last over. You could see his brain was ticking. He wanted to do it so desperately and it was clear on his face when he came back to the dressing room,” Shastri said.
Shastri, who was appointed head coach in 2017, admitted that the team missed the services of a ‘solid’ No. 4 batsman throughout the World Cup.
“In hindsight, yes, we did need a solid batsman out there in the middle order. But now, that’s something for the future. That’s a position that was always giving us problems, but we just couldn’t nail it. (KL) Rahul was there but then Shikhar Dhawan got injured. Then Vijay Shankar was there, and he got injured. We just couldn’t control it,” Shastri said.
Asked if Mayank Agarwal, who replaced all-rounder Vijay Shankar late in the tournament was considered as the opener to push Rahul back down to No. 4, Shastri said, “Not really, because it got too tight. By the time Mayank came to join us, there wasn’t much time. If there was one more game, that is, if this semi-final was a game later, we would have definitely done it. He flew in, and Rahul had just hit a 60, and then a hundred. But I know what you mean; if we had one more game, that could well have been done.”
The Indian head coach said that playing the semifinal over two days because of rain was not ideal and disrupted the team’s momentum as well.
“The momentum we had on Tuesday — that was gone. Stop, restart all over again. It wasn’t ideal but that’s how sport goes, sometimes,” he said.
Shastri was also impressed by commitment showed by Ravindra Jadeja throughout the tournament, even when he was not part of the playing XI.
“Jadeja was outstanding. He has great natural talent and I am so glad that he has realised that he is a very good player… and what balance he brought to the team. Imagine, he was out for eight matches but every time he went on to the field in those, he gave it all. Tigerish. Running and throwing. Then he comes in and has two incredible games. He brings outstanding ability to the table. This is by far his best knock, and in the next two years, you are going to see the best of Jadeja. He is going to another level now,” the 57-year-old said.
Finally, asked how the team are handling the loss, Shastri said, “Hurting, obviously. Disappointed, yes, but no tears. This is a tough team. A magnificent team. Look at how we bowled. The way the batsmen batted.
“A couple of youngsters might come in the middle and make this even more stronger. It’s a team on the right path — they know it. When you have played good and tough cricket for the last 30 months, this loss in the semi-final would hurt. It’s a tough pill to swallow and we are all gutted, but this is sport. That’s why we play it.”