http://www.espncricinfo.com/sri-lanka-v-india-2015/content/story/910477.htmlShastri resolute on attacking mindset
Sharda Ugra in Colombo
Coaches/managers/team directors, call them what you will, turn up after very bad games in an attempt to shield their distraught charges from the baying media. Former India coach Duncan Fletcher, when working with England, would turn up during what began to be called "Duncan days". With India, however, he barely fronted the press despite an increasing frequency of terrible days during his tenure. As the Indian team's new Capo di Capi (boss of the bosses), Ravi Shastri turns up and works the room in a completely different way.
On Monday, he arrived at the Indian 'team room', a small, enclosed function space at one end of the Taj Samudra, wearing what qualifies as gym gear - singlet and shorts - and a game face. To be fair, whatever his attire, throughout his entire career as cricketer, commentator and now India's team director, Shastri has neither been reticent or withdrawn, nor has he operated in a lower key. On days good and bad, he will only turn up on his metaphorical front foot.
In a distinct break from the Indian team's bulletproof bubble of the last few years, at the end of his media briefing, Shastri waited to have a cup of tea - naturally, "strong" - with the reporters. He was happy to shoot the breeze, talk off record, relate a few stories and have a laugh. Call it winning friends and influencing people, or merely Shastri being Shastri, he was not about to let the gloom of Galle slow him down.
India have travelled to a damp and grey Colombo, feeling doleful following Sri Lanka's heist in Galle. Even if the visitors do feel all "we wuz robbed", they would know they brought it upon themselves. Shastri didn't waste a moment highlighting the same.
His favourite words in all media briefings so far have been "fearless", "aggressive" and "intent", but Galle was the very anti-thesis of his mission, with a team that fell short of turning those words into results. He was asked, quite pointedly, about why the talk about playing aggressive cricket had not filtered through to the team. His reply fell somewhere close to a line from a Schwarzenegger movie: "I said I'll hammer it [the message] till it goes in. Now the hammer is out." What happened in that last session of play? "That's the reason I said we will hammer it."
It may be a bit too extreme, but it is signature Shastri - operating from the essential principle of gung-ho, no matter what, and passing on an overarching, uncomplicated message: up and at 'em, men. These are words that may echo in the dressing room full of players working their way past the shadow of formidable predecessors and requiring bucketloads of belief and positivity, which Shastri appears to offer on tap.
Yet, despite the bravado and the talk of fearless cricket, Kohli & co have been bruised by Test results in England and Australia, and would have been gutted in Galle. These results are not for want of trying but a want of general cricketing nous. Shastri agreed with the view that the Indian batsmen's approach against the spin of Moeen Ali in England and Nathan Lyon in Australia, compared to Rangana Herath and Tharindu Kaushal, was totally confused. With Moeen Ali, India had been "over-aggressive. Here [we were] too tentative, conservative, defensive… where you had to be a little more positive."
He insisted the defeat in Galle - where India failed to score 153 in a chase of 176 on the final day - will not see the Indian team ceding ground in terms of strategy. "We won't change our style of play. Mindsets will remain the same. Exactly like how it was in the first Test match. But to close the deal, you have to walk the distance till the end. We made that one mistake in the end." To stay committed to the "mindset", very much a result of the Kohli-Shastri combine, means doing more than playing five bowlers. It will now mean rekindling the batsmen's confidence. Shastri said, "I wish they had attacked on the last day and not defended. If they had attacked on the last day or been a little more positive - I am not saying attacked means four, six but been busy, played with intent - it would have been a different ball game." Despite the defeat in Galle, Ravi Shastri has stressed that India will stay committed to an aggressive mindset © PTI
In his media briefing, Shastri's answers switched regularly from a realistic appraisal of his team's performance in Galle to a more optimistic note that would give dejected fans many lungfuls of oxygen. The pressure in Galle, he said, was self-inflicted "rather than the pressure from the start of play … Which they will have to learn from and make sure they don't repeat it. Because they are getting closer. My general feeling is that if they get one on the board, it could be the start of many with this team."
It was, he said, "about being tentative and conservative on that last day when you should have been looking to rotate the strike, not allowing the bowlers to settle down. You are not saying go hell for leather, but be smart. We weren't and we have to learn from this. When you lose a Test like this, it hurts you."
He said matches like Galle "hurt you more than some of the others, because you have dominated the Test - 70%, 80% of the Test - and then you have lost it." It was then suggested that, in times like these, "you learn from this kind of result quicker than any other kind of result. Hopefully you will see it in the next few days."
Following the 63-run defeat, the dressing room mood "wasn't good", he said. "We didn't leave the dressing room for a good hour, hour-and-a-half because everybody was hurting. But there was a good honest discussion. When you have won six sessions, you lose two sessions and you are 1-0 down, there is a lot to take away but there is a lot to learn as well. We are not skirting behind any problem, there are no excuses. We discussed everything out there threadbare and it's for us now to come out as a team and learn from what went wrong in that Test match."
There has been a certain tempering of the situation after the Galle result and the injuries to openers Shikhar Dhawan and M Vijay. Allrounder Stuart Binny's induction into the squad may sound like a fire engine alarm bell but Shastri said Binny would give "additional support" to the eleven if needed. The conditions at the P Sara Oval are conducive to seam which gives Binny a chance of being a shoo-in. Shastri, however, did not go as far as saying Binny's call-up was an admission that India had been a batsman short in Galle.
"We are not hiding behind anything, we thought we needed additional support in case you need to play an extra batsman who can bowl a bit as well - not bowl a bit, [but] can bowl," he said. "He is a genuine allrounder. We can use him depending on the conditions that are on offer for the next two Test matches.
"It does take time to get to the right combination. With this Indian team, with this kind of bowling attack, I think an allrounder is a must. I would say, more a batting all-rounder. It's an absolute must. When you play in these conditions, you might not need five bowlers but a four-and-a-half. It could be spinning batting allrounder, depending on the conditions. I think it's important to get the right balance. Stuart is coming off a brilliant performance on the tour of Zimbabwe. I think whenever he has got an opportunity, he has done a pretty decent job. I think he did a very decent job in the tour of England where we lost badly."
As a forceful speaker, Shastri is fully capable of keeping a demanding media at bay. His real job lies, however, in getting his message across in the dressing room.
He has been with the Indian team since the ODI series against England in 2014, the Test series in Australia and the World Cup. Sri Lanka is perhaps his most demanding assignment yet. As team director - a job he enjoys - he has a captain he works well with and a squad that is young, impressionable and eager. From here, though, he would need to produce results to back his beliefs. The ones about aggression, fearlessness, mindset and the rest of the kitchen sink.
For Ravi Shastri, in his own words, it all comes down to the wire.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.