Ravi Shastri at his candid best
© Cricbuzz

Indian cricket has rarely been in the pink of health, on the field, as it is now. The team, under the unified captaincy of Virat Kohli across formats, has begun to produce results consistently and Anil Kumble has put in place practices in the background that are ensuring steady growth. Off the field, however, turmoil has been the order of the day, with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), at large, and certain administrators in particular, coming to grips with the sweeping changes laid down via the courts. Ravi Shastri, former India captain, long-standing commentator and recently head honcho of the team, pulls no punches when addressing these issues in a hard-hitting interview. Excerpts:

India has been a young side that has grown in the last few years. A season of Tests at home has helped solidify the growth and learnings of this period…

Absolutely. Because of the string of performances overseas, about two years of playing in different conditions, the team developed at pace. The turning point was the tour of Australia, where they held their own and then beat Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka to become the No. 1 side in the world. To become the No. 1 side even before the long season at home was an achievement. Beating South Africa 3-0, and then the home season helped stretch the lead at the top to a strong position. The run of Tests at home helped balance the side, which will help them overseas as well. The challenge now will be Australia at home. With due respect to England and New Zealand, Australia will be the toughest of India’s home assignments. To beat Australia, India will have to play their best game.

If India’s tour to Australia was a turning point, the forthcoming series will be a chance for some of the young Indian players to show how far they have come as cricketers since…

No question about that. The turning point from the batting aspect was quite clear – KL Rahul got a hundred, [Ajinkya] Rahane made a strong century, Virat got four centuries. Then, having a very good World Cup gave the fast bowlers the confidence, the feeling that they could make teams hop, when [Mohammed] Shami, Umesh Yadav were on fire. It was very exciting. What is especially heartening to see is that all the good work the team put in behind the scenes has not gone to waste. The results are coming now. All credit to Virat, Anil and the rest of the support staff for how they have managed the process. Now you have the chance to put your best foot forward against Australia because you’re a much better side than when you played them last time around. It’s very important against a side like Australia that you get ahead early. I stress this. Do not allow the opposition to get their noses ahead. With England or New Zealand, it does not matter so much, but against Australia, you’ve got to be careful.

Australia have nothing to lose. That could make them more dangerous?

Their last two visits to India, in their minds, are probably best forgotten. The one thing is that they will come out and play hard. Most of their players would’ve learnt a lot of Indian conditions and (there are also) players from the IPL: there will be caution and aggression. With the likes of [Steve] Smith and Warner in the ranks, and [Mitchell] Starc, [Nathan] Lyon and [Josh] Hazlewood in the bowling, makes for a very interesting series.

India are doing well in all formats but yet a lot of the headlines have been hogged by off-field events. The focus should really be on how well the team is doing…

It should be. But, having said that, I was very pleased that the committee that went to Dubai for the ICC meeting really took up the issue with the ICC board. [Vikram] Limaye, Anirudh [Chaudhry] and Amitabh [Choudhary] – I’m glad they made the BCCI’s reservations very clear. In my mind, India deserve every penny that they get from ICC tournaments, simply because they are the Pied Pipers of world cricket. Something like 80% of revenues for these tournaments come from India. Then to say that India is the bully, because they are asking for extra share, is the biggest load of bullshit I’ve heard. I say this because the BCCI is not asking for 80%, they’re asking for a much lower percentage. They have every right to. You take India out of the equation, I’d like to see what kind of revenue will be left.

I’m very glad they put their best foot forward and I’m extremely pleased that Sri Lanka supported India. During these times when there are issues with the BCCI, because of the court intervention and all that, people should not forget that BCCI as an institution was instrumental in helping countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in a massive way. This is over 15-20 years. I was pleased that Sri Lanka gave India the support they did and equally surprised and disappointed that Bangladesh and Zimbabwe went the other way.

It [revenue sharing] was a document signed two years ago, and then accepted by all countries. Suddenly this holier than thou attitude surprises me. India should be extremely clear and demand every pound of flesh they deserve. Whatever the negotiation or discussions that happen in the near future, India should get their fair share. That is the issue. All the countries were benefiting from what was agreed on two years ago. Countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh were getting much more than what they used to.

Is it a bit of a case of some other boards trying to make the most of the state of flux that the BCCI is in?

Absolutely. They are making the biggest mistake in doing so. You hit the nail on the head. My warning to such people is: beware. This institution is here to stay. They are making the mistake of trying to take advantage of the BCCI in this situation. This state of flux will not last for long. BCCI will be back where they belong very very soon. And that is why it is important that the BCCI stresses on the issues at hand. As far as I am concerned, there are too many ICC tournaments. This is the only sport that has so many champions at any given point of time. In my mind, the Champions Trophy should be scrapped after this edition because it only dilutes the World Cup. Who remembers who won the last three editions of the Champions Trophy? But if you ask me who won the last 10 editions of the World Cup, I can tell you. This period of time should be given to individual countries to make their domestic season prosper.

I would use that corridor for another two weeks of the IPL and probably have nine or 10 teams in the future. The IPL is a massive platform from which youngsters can be showcased. If India are the powerhouse that they are today across all formats, the IPL has a big role to play. What’s important for all boards, especially India is to focus on bilateral series. India should have a set home season with at least six matches in front of their fans each year, as England and Australia have. The ICC should know the story of what happens when you even think of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Take care of the goose and it will give you more and more.

It’s been suggested that the BCCI has not given importance to Test cricket…

When people point fingers like this, they should realise there are three fingers pointing back at them. India would not be the No. 1 ranked team today if Test cricket was not promoted by the BCCI. I only want it to be promoted even more. This means that you must have a solid domestic season. And bilateral series is in your hands, ICC has nothing to do with it. You get on the front foot and make sure you have the best teams coming over to play at the right times of the year to keep Test cricket alive and strong in India. The crowds this year have been fabulous and it will only be enhanced during the Australia series.

A case could be made that you’re only defending the BCCI or taking this position because you are contracted by them in commentary roles and benefit directly in a monetary sense…

That’s bullshit. I’ve worked all around the world. If I am something today it is because of the opportunities the BCCI gave me, but not as a commentator. It is what the BCCI did for me as a player, a cricketer, people should get that clear in their minds. That is the most important role of a cricket board. And you want to be loyal to an institution that has been your guardian right through your growing years. It has given you an opportunity to do what most people only dream of. How many people get so much from an institution? I’m telling you straight on your face when it comes to this. Many people would like to hide behind the BCCI and still make the most of this. I’m not that type.

It is the committee appointed by the courts that is in charge now. When transparency in administration and the electoral process are in place, BCCI, the institution, will be back to where it should be.

(This article first appeared on Cricbuzz on February 16, 2017)