Ravi Shastri has been re-appointed as the head coach of the Indian cricket team till the 2021 T20 World Cup. During his 26-month tenure, Team India has a lot on their plate. From overseas Test series to the Test championship to the two ICC T20 World Cups, the next 26 months provide another opportunity to build on his previous record while at the same time correct the mistakes that marred his previous tenure.
If one looks into Shastri’s numbers during his first stint at the helm, they are pretty astounding. With just 31 defeats in 118 matches since July 2017, Team India has been a side to beat in the past two and a half years. And, there have been some excellent achievements too – first-ever Test whitewash in Sri Lanka (2017), first-ever ODI series win in South Africa (5-1 in 2018), first-ever Test series win in Australia (2018-19), Asia Cup, ODI series win in NZ (1-4 in 2019) after 10 years.
But, if we dig deep and remove the upper layer of mere statistics, it will be realized that there was a massive opportunity lost to finally win a Test series in South Africa (1-2, 2018), to end the drought of a Test series win in England (1-4, 2018), and off-course that World Cup. Mis-reading pitch conditions, unnecessary muddling with the playing combinations and lack of clarity and planning around that No.4 spot in the ODI setup were the major factors in India seemingly underperforming, especially with the massive resources they had at their disposal.
That said, it is time to look forward now, and with this view in mind, here are the five crucial series/tournaments that Team India will play in Shastri 2.0.
Here are five important series which India will play during Shastri’s second stint:
5. India tour of New Zealand – February/March 2020
Indian team celebrates. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)
After having toured New Zealand in 2019, Team India will be back on the Trans-Tasman shores early next year; this time for a two-match Test series which will preside over a 5-match T20I rubber. The Men in Blue and the Black Caps have played a lot of white-ball cricket this year. While Virat Kohli‘s men handed a 1-4 drubbing to the hosts in their own backyard, the Kiwis responded even more emphatically knocking India out of a World Cup.
The 2020 tour will kickstart with a 5-match T20I series. India have never won a T20I series on New Zealand soil (lost 0-2 & 1-2 in 2009 & 2019) and with the T20 World Cup set to be staged in October next year, the series will provide the visitors with just the kind of preparation they need for the marquee event.
After the T20Is are done and dusted, the focus will shift to Test cricket. This will be the first Test on New Zealand soil between these two countries in six years. The last time India played a Test in New Zealand, the likes of MS Dhoni, Kevin Pieterson, Michael Clarke, Graeme Smith, Brendon McCullum were still around the game, and the renaissance of English ODI cricket was still some years away.
Even though India lost the series 0-1, the Men in Blue played compelling cricket throughout that series, and if not for their inability to lose crucial moments, could have walked away as winners. Six years on, India’s Test team is at the numero-uno spot and the fact that they have won just one Test series in NZ (in 2009) in the past 40 years, it could be one of the highest points on Shastri’s CV as a coach if India do manage to beat the Kiwis on their home soil.
4. ICC T20 World Cup – Australia 2020
Indian team in 2nd T20I vs WI (Photo Source: Twitter)
It has been the talking point ever since India bowed out of the 2019 World Cup after a heartbreaking defeat to New Zealand. When is the next ICC event? Well! Such is the frenetic pace at which cricket moves on these days, fans like us no longer have to wait for four long years for an ICC event.
Call it scheduling mismanagement or what, we’ll have back-to-back T20 World Cups in 2020 and 2021. The first of them will be played Down Under while the second will return to India after five years. As a director/coach, Shastri has presided over three out of the four knockout defeats- that Team India has faced since June 2014.
All of the three defeats- World Cup 2015, WT20 2016 and World Cup 2019- have come at the semi-final stage and the pattern has been painfully similar: India dominates the league-stage before their feet turn cold on the day when it matters. He has two more ICC events to address the worrying trend and one of his immediate goals would be to change the approach of the team in the shortest format.
In his latest interview, Ravi Shastri himself acknowledged that the T20I side was still a ‘work in progress’, and that only 4-5 players in the current ODI set-up fit into the Twenty-20 scheme of things. Integrating youngsters into the T20I set-up along with the carving out a separate brand of cricket as far as the shortest format of the game is concerned, and of-course winning ‘that’ elusive trophy will be Shastri’s biggest challenges.
3. Test series in Australia, 2020-21 and the path leading to the ICC World Test Championship final at Lord’s
Team India with the Test mace. (Photo Source: Twitter)
Probably the highest point of Shastri’s tenure a coach – a Test series win for the first time on Australian soil. India’s pace-attack led by Jasprit Bumrah– and Cheteshwar Puraja’s mountain of runs [521 in 4 Tests including three hundred] were the cornerstone of India’s historic win in Australia last summer, bringing an end to decades of heartbreaks, humiliations, and agony.
But, come November-December 2020, it will be a substantial challenge for the duo of Kohli and Shastri to repeat the heroics of their last series win, with the return of Steve Smith and David Warner to the Aussie team. While we should take nothing away from the side’s historic win in the summer of 2018, the fact that Smith and Warner did not take part in that series have always divided opinions around the credibility of that victory.
It will be a challenge of epic proportions, considering the duo’s impeccable record against the Indians, but if they indeed do an encore of their 2018 heroics, the group, as well as Shastri, will carve themselves a special place in the folklore of Indian cricket.
The Australian series will also be important as far as India’s aspirations of qualifying for the ICC Test championship final at Lord’s  are concerned. With India generally expected to win at home [vs SA, vs BAN, vs ENG], their main challenge will be the overseas tours to New Zealand [2 Tests] and Australia [4 Tests], and the performance in these two sojourns will largely decide whether they’ll be contesting the final at Lord’s or not.
2. 5-match Test series in England – July-August 2021
India captain Virat Kohli. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
If you are a fan from the 90s or early 2000s, watching Team India fail shambolically tour-after-tour during the entirety of 2010s [0-4 in 2011, 1-3 in 2014 & 1-4 in 2018] would have been heartbreaking. After England’s tour of India for a five-match Test series in early 2021, Team India will travel to the English isles for the return series.
The series will also kickoff the 2nd cycle of the Test championship and the duo of Shastri and Kohli will have an opportunity to correct the mistakes that they committed during the 2018 rubber, which eventually led to India’s 1-4 shellacking.
India’s nemesis during their past three tours to England has been the top-order’s inability to counter the seaming and swinging conditions, often exposing their middle-order to the new ball. This will be Shastri’s last Test series in his second stint as coach and the opportunity to script a series win in England for the first time since 2007, can’t get any bigger.
1. ICC T20 World Cup, India 2021
Indian team. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)
Another ICC event to round off his 26-month stint as the head coach – ICC T20 World Cup, this time on home soil. Ironically, Shastri was at the helms of affairs when the last time an ICC event was staged in India – the 2016 ICC World Twenty20.
The year 2021 wouldn’t have had a T20 World Cup in the first place, considering the event will be held 12 months earlier in Australia but with ICC scrapping the 50-over Champions Trophy (originally scheduled for 2021), the window was open for another T20 event.
No matter what happens in the 2020 T20 World Cup, this ICC event will serve as the last chance for Shastri to finally win an ICC event. The pressure will be immense too; India bottled the opportunity last time the T20 World Cup was held on home soil and another aberration could turn out to be unforgivable in the eyes of the fans.
~Written by Yash Mittal
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