“He (Shastri) took up the responsibility when we were in (a) shambles,” Sharma said. Kumble’s “thinking about the game is so different from the rest… It just amazes you… the kind of stuff he talks about and what he brings to the table is absolutely brilliant”, Sharma added.
Shastri was the team director for the last 18 months and in the reckoning to become coach before Kumble got the job.
Describing Shastri as “a big influence on Indian cricket for the past 18 months”, Sharma said, “As soon as he came, he created a positive atmosphere around us.”
Responding to questions from the audience, Sharma also welcomed Kumble with generous praise. “I have two years of experience at Mumbai Indians and I know the kind of things we spoke about. I was the captain and he was the coach and mentor of the team. I got to learn a lot from him,” said Sharma.
“I was fortunate enough to play with him during the last months before he retired. I remember in 2008, I was part of the Test squad to Sri Lanka and he (Kumble) was the captain. And he always had this attitude of never giving up, which as a young player is so inspiring. He is someone who is very inspiring with the way he’s played his cricket… he’s trying to inspire people to try and take up the challenge which is lying in front of you, and react to those challenges. He will always be there for you as a mentor and coach,” said Sharma.
Kumble would tell the Mumbai Indians to never give up till the end, said Sharma. “You have to keep fighting no matter what. If the game is slipping away from your hands, don’t give up till the last ball is bowled. That’s how he played his cricket. You will get the feeling that he was someone who wouldn’t let go too easily. That’s the kind of message that he wanted to send across. That’s the kind of message we also want as young players. He’s very inspiring,” he said.
One of the talking points about Shastri’s stint was about turning tracks being produced for deriving home advantage in the Test series against South Africa. Sharma reiterated the team’s stand that producing such tracks was a fair way to push for home advantage.
He said that it was a tactic used to exploit South Africa’s batting weakness against spin, adding that it will not be used against New Zealand who have a couple of good spinners.
Of the four-Test series against South Africa, the third in Nagpur, in particular, earned the ire of ICC. India had won the Test in three days on a rank turner following which the ICC gave Jamtha Stadium an official warning under its pitch monitoring process.
“As a group, as Team India, we decided that we wanted to dominate this series and the first way of domination was to use our home advantage, which every team does around the world. We go to Australia, they are not going to give us what we want. They will prepare pitches according to what they want. South Africa, England, anywhere you go,” said Sharma.
“Firstly, I don’t understand why there was so much of an issue made with the conditions. It’s the home conditions, we have to use it. As a group, we all sat down and decided what we were going to do with the pitches… All we wanted was to get results. We knew that the South African team lacked in their spin department and we had a gem of a spin attack. We wanted to use that,” said Sharma.
In the freewheeling interaction, Sharma also spoke about a range of other topics: from how he has only himself to blame for his floundering Test career to revealing who was the most boring dresser in the Indian team.