Indian cricket team’s head coach Ravi Shastri has a simple message for the team that is set to play the first test on August 1st. He has asked the team to play a fearless brand of cricket. He addressed the team to play the same prior to the South Africa series which saw India win the final test match.
“We have done exceptionally well in white-ball cricket. We showed some very good signs in South Africa as far as the red ball is concerned. We want to carry that forward. The challenge for us is to be consistent in the red-ball format overseas. We believe we have the potential to be one of the best travelling teams. At the moment, there is no side in the world that travels properly. You can see what is happening to South Africa in Sri Lanka. We know our scorelines in England before this tour: 4-0 , 3-1 . We want to do much better than that,” he said in an interview to ESPNCricinfo.
When asked the question on whether the current hot climate in England will help India feel close to home Shastri said that, “The square will be different, the outfield will be different and the weather conditions will be different to back in India. But whatever the conditions, the balls moves in England. In South Africa we played on some spicy tracks. We have to adapt to those 22 yards. We adapted better than South Africa in Johannesburg and we won that Test. They won a couple of sessions more than us in the first two Tests and won two Tests.”
The main point Shastri made and believed is that the Indian batting would be the key in deciding the result of the game.
“The first 20-25 overs are extremely crucial. If you can come through that period (unscathed) then you get a set a good platform. Understanding your role, understanding what the team needs in those 20 overs, the discipline needed to see off those 20 overs and make sure you lose as few wickets as possible. Then you set up the game because we have enough ammunition in the middle order and lower order to take the game forward,” he said.
Shastri felt that the openers needed to stay for the first session and protect the wickets which will allow the middle order to excel later on in the day.
“Yesterday morning [the first day of the warm-up match against Essex], if you get those conditions [fresh green pitch, new ball seaming and swinging], I don’t care who the opening batsman is – it is tough. On such mornings you need your slice of luck, but you have to be prepared to go through the grind, like M Vijay did in that period of play.”
“You could nick one any time, but you have to get that mental discipline that, yes, the pitch will ease out after lunch and that will make the job for the other players in the team easier. So my role is that even if I get 20-25 runs, if I have seen the team through that early period to make it easier for someone else, I have done a lot. It is about playing the conditions. It is very important you see the tough period through.”
In terms of the batting order, Shastri stated that the flexibility in slots is an asset for the team and for everyone to be ready for a surprise. He showed his faith in Pujara even though the Saurashtra man has had a very lean patch.
He’s an extremely experienced player. I feel he is one innings away [from a big score]. He needs to spend time at the crease. If he gets one 60-70 under his belt, he will be a different player altogether. My job is to make sure he is thinking in that fashion,” Shastri added. “Pujara is an anchor. He has been one of the pillars of this batting line-up for a long time. You know what he does – he loves batting. We just want him to do it. Unfortunately, in South Africa he was run out a couple of times. That is something we don’t want. We don’t want him to be an Usain Bolt, we want to him to be Pujara. Stay there at the crease. The last thing you want to do is give your wicket away to a run-out,” clarified Shastri.
Shastri also clarified that KL Rahul was picked as a 3rd opener but could fit in anywhere in the batting order and surprise everyone.
“He (KL Rahul) has been picked as the third opener. But our batting order will always be flexible. The third opener can play anywhere in the top four. We are a very, very flexible outfit. Be prepared for that. We will surprise you guys at times,” said Shastri.
Finally when asked about the bowling lineup Shastri felt that India had missed both Bhuvneshwar and Bumrah in the ODI series and felt that it would have been a totally different ball game altogether if they had played.
“You have to try other people out. If Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar had been fully fit in the one-day series, it would have been a different ball game altogether. We would have both of them fully fit for the entire Test series. It would have given me selection headaches. There is still enough experience and variety in our bowling attack – whether it is pace, spin, or Hardik (Pandya) filling in as a fast-medium bowler. There are enough options there,” said Shastri.
Sashtri also put in immense faith in Ishant Sharma to spearhead the bowling attack. He reminded everyone of the fond memories Ishant has given for the team throughout his career.
“Ishant Sharma has done brilliantly in Sri Lanka. He did outstandingly in that Test match in Johannesburg where he bowled his heart out. He might not have taken a five-for, but he kept the bloody pressure on South Africa all the time. That is his role. He is experienced. He wants to be a spearhead. He has taken more wickets than anyone else amongst the fast bowlers. He will remember his seven wicket haul at Lord’s, which played a big hand in the win. Those are the memories that will run through his mind when he gets the ball in hand,” said Shastri on India’s seam bowling options.
It will be interesting to see who draws the first blood in the all important test series that starts on August 1st. Let us know your thoughts below.