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‘Stargazing: The Players in My Life’ review: A warm tribute to cricket’s greats

Rushed to New Zealand in 1981, the 18-year-old found his spot under the sun. Over the next decade, the Mumbaikar with Mangalorean roots, was intrinsic to Indian cricket. Picked for his left-arm spin and batting at number 11, Ravi Shastri rose through the ranks and eventually opened the innings before a knee injury forced his retirement. He seamlessly moved into the television box and called some of India’s greatest moments on the field.

Yet, lost in the acoustics of his commentary, was the image of a gutsy batsman and handy spinner. With two hundreds in the West Indies of yore, besides tons in England, Australia and Pakistan, Shastri could be both obdurate and extravagant as evident in his six sixes from a single over in a Ranji Trophy game against Baroda. Shastri was also the ‘Champion of Champions’ during India’s triumphant run in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket in Australia.

Proverbial insider

Currently the Indian team’s coach, Shastri is the proverbial insider and all that experience has been distilled into his book Stargazing: The Players in my Life, with veteran journalist Ayaz Memon lending a hand. This tome is about his views on leading cricketers, much akin to Sunil Gavaskar’s Idols. This is Shastri the cricket-tragic taking guard and describing players ranging from Garry Sobers to Virat Kohli while the who’s who of world cricket get featured across 288 pages.

Shastri praises without filters, offers his strong opinions and the self-referencing is never intrusive though it is obvious that his cricketing friends cut across nations and generations. There are poignant notes on Malcolm Marshall, Martin Crowe and Dean Jones, three of his buddies, who have moved onto the Elysian Fields.

In the chapter titled ‘My Mentor’, Shastri describes Gavaskar: “His contribution to Indian cricket is incalculable. He gave it spine and self-belief.” Shastri is an unabashed G.R. Viswanath fan. Decades ago he stood outside Koshy’s in Bangalore, while the little master indulged inside through a long night. That devotion is evident when he writes: “Viswanath turned from hero to idol. He hogged my imagination.”

Later while profiling Sourav Ganguly, Shastri plays down his differences with the southpaw. He also reveals his early impressions of Sachin Tendulkar, a talent he was clued into much before the rest of the world got to know. Be it Vivian Richards or Richard Hadlee, Rahul Dravid or M.S. Dhoni, Shastri gives both the macro-approach and micro-analysis.

Clear insights

And as he writes about others we also get to know about Shastri the man. Tough on the field but eager to split a beer after play, Shastri opines: “As a player and captain in my day, I was always wary of those cricketers who lived by niceties to impress those writing in newspapers or doing commentary rather than trying to win the match.”

There are empathetic insights and while discussing Kevin Pietersen, Shastri observes: “Big blokes with a strut and a swagger might exude bravado, but can also be fragile and insecure.” The odd typo is there but overall this is a book that helps you re-acquaint with some of cricket’s greats. On that count, to borrow one of Shastri’s favourite expressions, he delivers like a ‘tracer bullet’.

Stargazing: The Players in My Life; Ravi Shastri, HarperCollins, ₹699.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 6:52:37 AM |

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