MOHALI: Since taking charge as Team Director last year, most of the things Ravi Shastri has spoken about revolve around aggressive cricket, putting the best foot forward and finalising combination depending on conditions. As he sat down for the first press conference of the Gandhi-Mandela series, a much debated topic welcomed him — team management requesting for spinner friendly conditions at home.
Shastri began by saying he was yet to have a look at the pitch at PCA Stadium. After the press conference, he headed straight to the middle, where his assistant Bharathi Arun was having an animated conversation with veteran curator Daljit Singh. The impression Shastri gave (he hugged Daljit), indicated that what the team management had requested had been provided. Now, it is up to Virat Kohli and his men, who will play a home Test after two years.
Back to the media conference. Shastri had perhaps expected this question, following the Wankhede controversy, where India got a batting belter after apparently asking for a turner.
“I believe at home you need play to your strength. There’s no need to hide it. Spin has been happening over the years and I don’t know why it’s being made a big issue. What happened at Wankhede is history. I don’t have a word to add or subtract.”
It didn’t end there. References were made to Australia and South Africa dishing out bouncy wickets when India travel and Shastri pointed out how England woke up to change conditions midway through the Test series last year, after India had taken the lead. But again, he stopped from saying in the open that spin friendly wickets will be the theme of the series.
When someone tried to play smart by asking whether India would field field three spinners — Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra — Shastri was smarter. “If we want we can even play four, there’s no rule that you have to play pacers. It’s a home series!” he thundered.
Speaking of home series, it is close to two years since India last played a Test in India. Back then, Sachin Tendulkar was still part of the team and because India played mostly abroad, players like Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane have very little experience of playing here.
“In this team very few have played Tests at home and South Africa is the perfect side to raise the bar. South Africa is unbeaten for seven years against India and it’s a chance for this young side to upstage them and move up the rankings. Be it the West Indies side of 80s and Australia of 90s, whenever a top side came here, we produced some great series and that’s why I see this one going along the same lines,” he said.