Team India will be on a high after winning 9 Test series on the trot but their real test will lie once they travel to South Africa for a tour comprising of 3 Tests, 6 ODI’s and 3 T20I’s. India has never won a Test series in the rainbow nation and given their impressive run in the recent past they will back themselves to create history. Head Coach Ravi Shastri ahead of India’s tough tour spoke to Times of India about India’s preparations and the team combination and many more.

Speaking of how the team is shaping up with a big tour on the horizon, Shastri said:

 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.’

Left-arm chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav who has made an impression in both Tests and limited overs format was overlooked for the tour, and instead, an extra paceman was added to the squad. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are the only two spinners in the squad.

Speaking on Kuldeep’s exclusion, Shastri said:

Kuldeep is still young, just turning 23. His time will come. For this tour, the combination of Ashwin and 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.”

Kuldeep Yadav

Meanwhile No one bowler in T20I cricket, Jasprit Bumrah has finally been rewarded for his consistent performances in the limited overs format as he was handed his maiden Test berth though it is unlikely that he will feature in the Playing XI.

“Well, he has just worked his way to the top so well. He’s young, hard-working, and has a unique action with which he can whip up quite some pace. Bumrah adds a lot of value to this attack. We have to earn those 20 wickets if we have to make any impact in a Test match and we need all the arsenal possible because it’s going to be quite a testing tour. Look at how the South African squad is turning out, Dale Steyn’s back, Morkel’s looking good (he had sustained a side strain against Bangladesh in October), then there’s Rabada, Philander. It’s about being able to have a combination that can be rotated and we have neat options,” Shastri said.

Ajinkya Rahane had a horrendous series against Sri Lanka where he managed only 17 runs in 5 innings and was dismissed of ordinary deliveries. Despite his indifferent run, Rahane has been retained as the vice-captain which goes on to prove the trust which the team management has on Rahane especially in the longest format of the game.

“Ajinkya has had a poor run but it’s a matter of time before he regains his touch. He’ll be fine. Players also rise to an occasion and Ajinkya has proved himself in tougher times. We’re not too worried about the batting front and that’s because of the variety that’s available. For instance, look at Virat’s last two tours of Australia. On the first trip he struggled, and the next time he was there, he batted like a champion. These boys know what it takes to fight off a good challenge. Their minds are constantly in tune with these challenges, and with age, you don’t just get better at the game but you also begin to think bigger, become mentally stronger. It’s the same with the core of this team,” Rahane said.

Ajinkya Rahane

When asked whether they would have ideally wanted some more time in South Africa to prepare themselves for the Test series, Shastri said:

“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 SA 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.”

Shastri further confirmed that Hardik Pandya was rested for the Sri Lanka series as the team management wanted the all-rounder to be in perfect shape ahead of the South Africa tour where he is expected to play a big part in the eventual outcome of the series.

“He’d been playing continuously across formats and there’s only that much a human body can take. He’s a good allrounder and we needed him to stay fresh for the tour of South Africa. So it was a collective decision where we spoke about the importance of a break and I conveyed it to the BCCI. At the end of the day, the player has to feel secure and understand that certain things need to be done keeping the bigger picture in mind,” Shastri said.