With the first Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2023 fast approaching, former Indian fielding coach R Sridhar recalled a hilarious episode when Indian fast bowler Shardul Thakur disobeyed the then head coach Ravi Shastri during the third Test match of the 2020/21 series at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Sridhar in his book ‘Coaching Beyond: My Days with the Indian Cricket Team’ wrote about the conversation during the tea break when Hanuma Vihari and R Ashwin were batting on the final day to save the game.
“Vihari and Ashwin came in at tea, and while we converged to congratulate and encourage them, a tactical call was also made. Vihari had pulled his hamstring and was not able to play Lyon convincingly because his movements were restricted. He couldn’t put in the good, long stride. Ashwin, meanwhile, was being subjected to a bouncer barrage from the quicks. So, it was decided that Ashwin, at home against Lyon, would take on the off-spinner and Vihari would negotiate the three-pronged pace attack,” he wrote.
“After having stuck to their respective ends of the bargain, for some strange reason, they took a single, which exposed Vihari to Lyon and Ashwin to the fast men. A couple of singles later, the situation was unaltered and Ravi was starting to lose his shirt. He summoned substitute Shardul Thakur and told him, ‘Listen to me very carefully, and repeat this to them: No matter what happens, Vihari will handle the fast bowlers, Ashwin will play Lyon. No singles, no change of ends, period. Got it?’Shardul smiled coyly and said, ‘Yes, sir’, and charged to the middle with a bottle of water for Ashwin,” he added
He then wrote about how Shardul lied to the coach “After exchanging a few words with the two batters, he ran back in. ‘Did you pass on my message?’ Ravi growled. ‘Yes, sir, of course, Shardul replied.
“It was only much, much later, after we had pulled the fat out of the fire and escaped with one of the greatest draws, that the real story came out. It seems when Shardul went in, Ashwin asked him what was being said in the dressing room.
Shardul replied, ‘They are saying many things, but you guys don’t worry. You are batting well, just continue doing the same things’. He didn’t pass on Ravi’s message; instead, he told the batters exactly what they wanted to hear at that time. Perhaps he sized up that passing on the instructions, however steeped in logic they might be, could disrupt the flow of the batters and the zone they were in, so he passed on a message he thought was the best under the circumstances. Hats off to him! In a direct way, that is linked to the kind of empowerment we gave the players, and which they learnt to use judiciously,” Sridhar noted.
India drew the test match and went on to win the final test in Gabba in Brisbane winning the series 2-1 and retaining the Border Gavaskar Trophy.