As India gears up for a stern Test from South Africa, Ravi Shastri who was been the Team Director since the England tour of 2014 was informed that he would continue in his position till ICC World Twenty20 2016. Speaking ahead of the South Africa series to Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Shastri was upbeat about India’s chances.

Almost every player from Virat Kohli to Ravichandran Ashwin have praised him for his guidance. On his influence on the team and the dressing room atmosphere Shastri said, “Every assignment for me has been a big one. You take one series at a time, there is no small team today. Nothing changes. It is a challenge, responsibility that I have not backed away from in anything that I have done in my life. It is a brilliant young team, you have seen their performances over the last year in all formats of the game, I don’t have to say anything, you can judge.”

Ever since Kohli took over in Tests, there has been emphasis on playing five-bowlers. When asked if India will continue with the same tactic even at home, Shastri said the team will adapt as per the need. “Never a permanent strategy (playing five bowlers), you have got to respect the conditions. In the game of cricket, you cannot say I will go with this team since it will backfire if the conditions are totally different. So you might need six batsmen, you might need four and a half bowlers, you might need a bowler to do a job and give the main bowlers a rest and play to the conditions and the opposition. It is important to study the opposition and plan accordingly.”

India before going to Sri Lanka had asserted that Rohit Sharma will bat at No. 3 but was dropped down to No. 5 in the next two Tests with Ajinkya Rahane being promoted at first drop. Shastri rubbished the claims that players were made to bat out of their comfort zone. He said, “No one is in their comfort zones, it’s only when you are in a comfort zone and you are moved out that you worry about getting people out of it. As a batsman in the top order, one needs to be ready to be bat at any opposition, anywhere for the team. These were unseen circumstances otherwise we would not have needed to do anything. (Shikhar) Dhawan had hurt his arm, Vijay was injured. We never really had two regular openers, fully fit from the outset.”

Shastri stressed on the fact that it was good to see the team being consistent and it was the biggest positive ever since he has joined the team. “It’s a classic case of showing everyone that they are learning. For me, the most successful tour was of Australia. It will hurt you after some time. We had a good World Cup. The result was 2-0 but the lessons learnt on that tour were hard ones to learn. That is being put to practice now and the young team is passionate and wants to learn. They do not want to rest their laurels and want to be consistent,” Shastri said.

On the two-captain theory that India has employed, Shastri was bullish about it not affecting India’s performances. He said, “You are talking of a seasoned campaigner (MS Dhoni), one of the greats of the game. So he takes over something he has been doing all this while, so things fall into place. The team has played under him, they played the World Cup under him. It makes no difference to the team. They are playing under  a champion.”

India ODI skipper MS Dhoni.

India ODI skipper MS Dhoni.

Speaking of the opposition, South Africa being relatively inexperienced, Shastri said, “It is like asking what happens to India without (Sachin) Tendulkar, (VVS) Laxman and (Anil) Kumble. Player come and go, you have to respect the fact that they are the No. 1 team in the world. So we know what we are up against, they are a stiff opposition. They play well in overseas conditions, better than any other side in world cricket and their record will show that. The respect is there but we won’t take any backward steps”.

On letting go of the opposition in the first Test at Galle, Shastri said it was important to learn to stay and finish the game. “Never drop your guard, the game is not over till it is over. You stick to what you have been doing and you have to win sessions one after the other to win a Test match. That was the immediate lessons that were learnt.”

India A recently beat Bangladesh A 2-1 at home, speaking on which Shastri was pleased with India’s bench strength, saying “I am going to have a chat with Rahul (Dravid) in sometime. He will know best about the guys who can come up the ranks. With the amount of cricket he has played, he will understand quickly who can bridge the gap. It is all good to score runs in domestic cricket but there’s also a talent which comes with experience that a guy might score less runs but he will be ready for international level due to the things he does so these are the things, you have to interact with Rahul for. The fact that Rahul is giving so much time just after finishing his cricket, for a young team it is brilliant.”

There has been a lot of discussion over the ideal position for MS Dhoni to bat in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is). Shastri insisted that it was about time Dhoni batted at No. 4 and he backed Dhoni’s decision to play at 4. He said, “Don’t you think it is about time? He has done the dirty work for donkey years, give him the time to enjoy himself. You are talking of probably the greatest one-day captain and player to have played the game. You check his record in the shorter formats of the game, I don’t think anyone will come close to him. Don’t worry about MS, he will decide on the day.”

On the support staff and the coaching staff having being decided till ICC World Twenty20 2016 and if that changed things going ahead, Shastri said, “You just take your job, if your boss tells you, you are here for a month, so you decide about it after the month is over how would you feel.”

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