The Border-Gavaskar win in 2020/21 was one of the greatest ever, not only in the history of Indian cricket but also in world cricket. The stories from the much-celebrated series keep coming in and now, in R Sridhar’s book ‘Coaching Beyond: My Days with the Indian Cricket Team’, the team’s former fielding coach remembers how Shardul Thakur disobeyed a direct order from Ravi Shastri during the famous Sydney draw, which saw Ashwin and Vihari battle it out in the middle.
“During tea, Vihari and Ashwin joined, and the team gathered to encourage them. A tactical move was also made taking into account that Vihari had strained his hamstring and was limited in movement, unable to put forth a strong stride. Meanwhile, Ashwin was being challenged by the quick bowlers with a barrage of bouncers. As a result, it was decided that Ashwin would face the off-spinner, and Vihari would tackle the three-pronged pace attack,” wrote Sridhar.
The plan went well for some time, but the ends changed due to an unnecessary single and despite trying the situation remain unchanged.
“After adhering to their assigned roles, they made an unexpected move by taking a single that put Vihari against Lyon and Ashwin against the fast bowlers. Despite a few more singles, the situation remained unchanged and Ravi was becoming frustrated. He called in substitute Shardul Thakur and instructed him, “Listen carefully and repeat this to them: Vihari will only face the fast bowlers and Ashwin will play against Lyon. No singles, no switching of positions, period. Understood?” Shardul replied with a sly smile, “Yes, sir,” and went onto the field with a water bottle for Ashwin,” noted Sridhar.
However, Sridhar recalled that it was revealed much later after the draw that the Thakur did not really pass on the message as he did not want to disturb the flow of the batters. Here’s how it went.
“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 wrote.
The latest edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy will start on Feb 9 in Nagpur.