The team’s coach Ravi Shastri spoke with TOI about India’s preparation and a year involving some exciting challenges abroad. Excerpts:
With a big tour on the horizon, how’s the team shaping up?
This team is looking good and they have their priorities in place. They’re hungry to prove themselves at home and away. For two years, barring the tour of Sri Lanka in July and August, we played at home, especially the whole of 2016, and while that was a job well done, these boys understand the importance of the year 2018. Frankly, we’re not too hooked on to this “home and away” thing where a lot of chatter goes on about conditions that aren’t too familiar. For instance, once you’ve played a Test match in Kolkata, how long does it take before you play another Test there? Two years? Sometimes three? It’s the same as an overseas tour. So that mindset is quite passe’. In this day and age, wherever you go, it’s home. You just got to walk in there and perform. It’s often been argued that India are poor travellers. We want to be the team that helped change this perception and this is the year to do it.
It was surprising not to see Kuldeep Yadav in the squad…
Kuldeep is still young, just turning 23. His time will come. For this tour, the combination of R Ashwin and [Ravindra] Jadeja is still our best step forward. The kind of tracks that will be made available to us in South Africa won’t come in too handy for a wrist spinner, which is what Kuldeep is. That aside, this is going to be a long journey and there are multiple things to focus on, including the next World Cup (2019). Right now, Ashwin is fresh after two busy seasons post the 2015 World Cup. When you look at the overall combination of this attack, it rounds off very well. That aside, both Ashwin and Jadeja can bat. Putting runs on the board will be as important as picking wickets.
There were frequent changes in the last couple of months. Was there something specific being worked out?
We are not going to be playing a T20 World Cup for the next two years. So, if there’s a T20 international happening today, it’s the right platform to test young cricketers, let them get a feel of playing at this level and test them. We did not tinker with the core of the Test team. Wherever there’s space available to test cricketers, we have given them an opportunity at the top level.
The team is reaching South Africa on December 28 and the first Test begins on January 5. Would you have preferred more time?
Ideally yes. Look at England. They reached Australia for the Ashes a month in advance. Now that’s a little too early but at the same time a week is a little less. Ideally, we’d have preferred a good 10 to 12 days in South Africa before the start of the Tests. But that’s fine. Going forward, the BCCI has assured us that these things will be looked at differently.