All of that has now taken a break as one of the world’s most unifying ecosystem waits for the dreaded Covid-19 pandemic to relent.
Ravi Shastri says “the last two months, and a couple of more going forward perhaps, will count as the most horrible phase in the life of a sportsperson in close to seven or eight decades. Something like this is unimaginable”.
As coach of the Indian team, “the only consolation perhaps”, he says, “is that cricketers or sportspersons in general are not the only ones who’ve been left shattered by what’s happening. The world in general is suffering, waiting for normalcy to resume”.
On that count, he says, “one can seek some solace”.
Shastri reckons the after-effects of the current phase, when cricket resumes, will be a “massive challenge for the very best of players”.
“No matter how big or accomplished a player is, it’ll take time to get into the groove once again, regain that ball sense, find your feet out there in the middle — no matter who you are. Not just cricket, but in any sport, that’ll be a challenge,” he says, and “it’s only natural”.
Post the lockdown, any board across the world, including the BCCI, should give optimum importance to domestic cricket more than anything else, he says, followed by bilateral tours.
“I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on world events right now. Stay at home, ensure domestic cricket comes back to normal, cricketers at all levels — international, First Class, etc — all get back on the field. That’s the most important bit. Second: Start with bilateral cricket. If we (India) had to choose between hosting a World Cup and a bilateral tour, obviously, we’d settle for the bilateral. Instead of 15 teams flying in, we’d settle for one team flying in and playing an entire bilateral series at one or two grounds,” Shastri stresses.
Thankfully, the international season for the Indian team had almost come to an end by the time the lockdown began to set in. “In that sense, what India’s lost out on is domestic cricket — the Indian Premier League (IPL) for instance. When cricket resumes, we could give the IPL a priority. The difference between an international tournament and the IPL is that the IPL can be played between one or two cities and the logistics will be easier to manage. The same thing with bilaterals — it’ll be easier for us to tour one country and play there at specific grounds than 15-16 teams flying in during these times. The International Cricket Council (ICC) needs to look at this objectively,” Shastri adds.
With regards to domestic cricket, Shastri doesn’t just mean the IPL. Across the world, be it Australia or England, South Africa or any other country, the head coach says it’s important for ever board to stand up on its feet first. “It’s a great opportunity for every country to focus on its domestic cricket and that should be given paramount importance,” Shastri says.
His day begins and ends on a ‘work from home’ note. “Coordinating with the support staff on a regular basis, coordinating with the BCCI’s operations team, imparting
observations from international cricket with coaches at the National Cricket Academy (NCA)” are among the things that keep him busy.
The coach says the general mood among the players and everybody else is that of apprehension. Just like it would be for any other citizen of the country or anybody in the world right now. “Just the way a professional from any sphere would be looking for normal life to resume, a cricketer will be looking for cricket to resume at the earliest. They’re going to be tough times because it’s next to impossible to keep an international sportsperson — used to hours of training and playing the sport — in complete lockdown”.
Shastri hopes that the next phase of the lockdown will have partial resumption in activities and services and will help players to access local stadiums wherever they’re based and resume something resembling normal training. “And later, of course, we’ll be looking forward to a camp, wherever it is possible to hold one and work on getting the entire team together. That’ll happen only once the necessary permissions are there from the government and BCCI,” he says.
Right now, the focus is on ensuring that the players tide through this. “We’re having chats with the support staff on a regular basis and they’re speaking to players on a regular basis. There’s constant monitoring of workload, a forum has been created, there’s adequate feedback coming — all this data will be doubly important once the players step out on the field. It’ll be extremely important to know how the players dealt with the lockdown, physically and mentally and work accordingly,” he states.
Over the coming weeks, if and when the lockdown begins to ease out into a partial one, cricketers, says Shastri, can start training at the local grounds subject to permission from authorities. Later, whenever the situation further eases out, a camp can be held at a pre-decided location, where all amenities can be made available with regards to training and fitness. “Skill-based sessions will begin once there’s an easing out of the present situation. Until then, we can only hope people stay safe and locked in – not just cricketers and sportspersons but I say this for everybody – and focus on what’s coming when normalcy resumes,” the coach says.