Coaching Beyond, My Days with the Indian Cricket Team is just the cricket book you would want to read. It documents one of the finest phases in Indian cricket where the team achieved the distinction of becoming the number one Test team and also discovers winning ways overseas. The book is R. Sridhar’s reflections of an exceptional journey with the team for seven years, when it became the fittest traveling unit in world cricket.

What makes the book a wonderful read is the number of anecdotes to illustrate a point. There are two figures that command special mention – Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant. They emerge Sridhar’s favourites as he analyses Kohli’s dismal tour of England in 2014 to his four-century feat on the next tour to Australia. Also, Pant, who Sridhar rates as one of the most “ferocious ball-strikers”.

Sridhar is aided by R. Kaushik, an accomplished cricket journalist with experience of more than 100 Test matches. Kaushik’s compelling writing combined with Sridhar’s mind creates a work that takes us behind the scenes where the reader gets a peep into the world of the players and the support staff in India’s rise as the best Test playing team. It was also the best fielding team, thanks to Sridhar’s innovative ways of involving the players.

Fitness and Fielding

Call it an insider’s account but the fact is that it highlights the best of Indian cricket in modern times. “It’s not for me to answer whether that phase was the most significant,” says Sridhar with humility. “All I can say is a lot of emphasis was laid on fitness and fielding by the leadership group of Ravi (Shastri), MS (Dhoni) and Virat (Kohli), which made my job more enjoyable and at the same time challenging. I can proudly say that on many occasions, we consistently outshone almost all oppositions, especially in ICC Trophies. The difference between our good days and bad days was little.”

Sridhar earns praise from VVS Laxman, architect of many Indian victories. “Through this book, Sridhar has reflected on his seven-year stint with the Indian team. Like he himself says, this is not a technique-heavy book but a dive into the minds of the top players and what has made them and the Indian team tick. I am sure it will make for a fascinating read,” says Laxman.

Even though the book captures the style of many established players, Sridhar is at his best when he writes of Kohli. “I was privy to the effort that went into making Virat the modern master that he has become,” writes Sridhar. He shares a luncheon meeting with Kohli and (bowling coach) B Arun in London in 2014. Kohli had suffered a slump in form, aggregating a poor 134 runs from 10 innings, and was keen to rectify his position in the team. Kohli talked about the “administrative, off-field niggles” that had irked him on the tour. Kohli got things off his chest and returned a fresh and charged up individual, thereafter, to emerge an all-time great of the game.

Shastri suggested to Kohli to “stand a little out of his crease and take an off-stump guard so that he doesn’t go feeling for balls in the fourth-to sixth- stump corridor.” It worked wonders for Kohli. As Sridhar writes, Kohli does not fear experimenting in his quest for improvement. Here is an anecdote by Sridhar that shows Kohli’s commitment to cricket.

“In March 2021, we were in Ahmedabad for a day-night Test against England. There was a lot riding on the match. Much debate had been generated by how the colour of the seats could offer a difficult backdrop against which to sight the pink ball. Virat tugged me aside for a fielding session in twilight under a not-so-ideal backdrop of orange chairs that dotted the stands, taking close to an unbelievable 200 catches. And that, too, the night before a Test match!”

For Sridhar, the most memorable days in terms of outcome were at the Gabba (2001) against Australia, and Melbourne against South Africa in the ICC World Cup in 2015. ”Actually, there is no count to the number of memorable days in terms of learnings and experience, but these two were special.”

Gabba brings Pant into focus. “Rishabh masterminded a record chase in Brisbane to help India pull off a glorious, against-the-odds victory and complete our second series win in a row in Australia.”

Play culture

The chapter ‘That Winning Culture’ details the work culture of the dressing room, the reason why Shastri and Kohli urged Cheteshwar Pujara to score faster because they believed he had the skill to do so. It was a question of convincing him. Sridhar recalls an incident from the Visakhapatnam Test against South Africa in 2019. At one stage Pujara had made eight off 61 deliveries when Shastri sent a message to the batsman, “Stop riding a f***ing Luna and get on a Harley-Davidson. Then came a passage soon where Pujara actually outscored Rohit Sharma.

Sridhar, who played 35 first-class cricket matches for Hyderabad, discusses communication, fielding revolution, dynamics of fielding, man management, the difference between captains and leaders and cricket during Covid through some delightful anecdotes. In this season full of Test cricket, Indian Premier League and the ICC World Cup, Sridhar and Kaushik combine to produce an eminently readable tribute to the rise of Indian cricket.

(Vijay Lokapally is a senior journalist and author)

Coaching Beyond, My Days with the Indian Cricket Team

Author: R Sridhar

Publisher: Rupa

Pages 188; Price Rs 395

Check out the book on Amazon here