The secret of winning the Test series in Australia was in nurturing our pacemen and ensuring that they stayed fit, said triumphant Indian team coach Ravi Shastri during the course of his interview with Republic TV.
The coach revealed that they learnt their lessons in South Africa and England when some key fast bowlers broke down.
“Both Shanker Basu, the physical trainer and Patrick Farhat, the physio put in long hours and worked late into the night to ensure that the pacemen stayed fit. We added another physio as we had 19 players to tend to,” he said.
Commenting on Jasprit Bumrah who was introduced into Test cricket in South Africa and ended up as a roaring success, Shastri said that they had timed his introduction into Test cricket to perfection.
“We always knew he was an outstanding fast bowler. We just had to harness his pace and energy to ensure that the team benefited. Along with other pacers, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami, Bumrah was brilliant. The trio bowled over 1000 overs in hot Australian conditions but still retained their sharp, incisive and effective bowling.”
Shastri was disappointed that Ravichandran Ashwin had to pull out of the playing XI just minutes before the toss in the final Test, but insisted that it was a very responsible decision and had to be commended.
“Had he played and then suffered an injury mid-way through the Test we would have been badly hampered. It also gave Kuldeep Yadav the chance to prove himself. He bowled brilliantly to show that he was a force to reckon with even in overseas conditions. As he grows stronger he’d turn out better,” he felt.
Shastri also heaped tons of praise on skipper Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant.
That knock by Pant in the Sydney Test was absolutely brilliant and different from his other centuries in England and Australia, he pointed out. The coach revealed that they had spoken to Pant about ball selection and smart batting.
“He’s incredibly talented. As he develops his batting skills he will be a great finisher for India. He has played a lot of cricket these past couple of years and we feel he deserves a rest. Not playing the ODIs in Australia will give him a break.”
Meanwhile India’s series victory was extremely special as Australia was reckoned to be the final frontier for Asian teams. None of the Asian countries could prise out the Aussies on their turf. India’s 2-1 win therefore was historic and one that came after 71 long years.
On the other hand Pakistan had world class fast bowlers in Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Sarfaraz Nawaz, et al. But they simply could not breach the Aussie defence. Neither could Sri Lanka, despite the best efforts of master spin bowler Muttiah Muralitharan.
Earlier, India were worse. Even when confronted by an Australian ‘C’ team led by a 41-year-old retired cricketer, Bobby Simpson (Australia’s main players who made up their A & B teams went rogue by joining the rebel series of Kerry Packer) they ended up losing the series.
The erstwhile Indian team had the quartet of great spinners, BS Chandrasekhar, Bishen Bedi, EAS Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan but even they found Aussie doggedness, fighting spirit and attitude too tough to overcome.
Thus when India outplayed and defeated Australia 2-1 in the series, Imran Khan, who had featured in many a battle in Australia, in Tests, ODIs, Sheffield Shield encounters, instantly knew its true worth and was one of the first to congratulate the Indian team.
Unfortunately, some Indian legends either did not congratulate Kohli and his boys or tried to belittle the win by claiming that Australia were without their best batsmen, Steve Smith and David Warner, both banned for their role in ball tampering in a Test in South Africa.
Interestingly, neither was a success in that series. Smith made just one fifty and had an average of 23 while Warner was slightly better with his average of 36, courtesy two knocks of 50.
Shastri though said it was no skin off his back. He had a skipper who was incredibly driven and he motivated the players to stay likewise. “Even newcomer Mayank Agarwal blended so easily into the culture and was eager to perform for his skipper and country.”
Defending the team size of 19 players, he pointed out to the replacement of an injured Ashwin with a readily available Yadav.
“Australia is a far away country. It is not like flying into Dubai. So we need players who are simultaneously readied and can be easy replacements at a moment’s notice. The squad of 19 players provided that leeway.”
Of course over the next few days and weeks India’s focus will shift to ODI cricket and the preparation for World Cup later.
Shastri said the ODI series provided a great opportunity to showcase India’s bench strength.. He said the team planned on winning everything but at the same time they needed to provide opportunities and exposure to a wider pool of players.
India play a series of white ball matches in Australia and New Zealand in the coming days before returning home to take on Australia in two T20Is and 5 ODIs. It looks like Kohli and coach Shastri have their hands full as the countdown to the World Cup in late May begins shortly.