If we play to potential and are injury-free, we can go the distance: Ravi Shastri

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The ability to dominate in all conditions is Kohli’s strength; he’s just 30 and already a great, says Shastri

Ravi Shastri talks straight, doesn’t hold back his punches. The Indian cricket team coach shared his views with The Hindu on a variety of issues.

How different is this Indian team from the previous sides?

I wouldn’t like to compare sides. This team plays as a unit. It plays with pride. Individual brilliance will be there but the emphasis is on collective effort.

What does Virat Kohli bring with him?

He brings with him extreme professionalism with a very high price tag on fitness, work ethics and on-field aggression. We have a similar view on the direction the team should go.

Where would you put Kohli in the pantheon of great batsmen?

His ability to dominate in all conditions and situations is his strength. He is right up there with the very best. He’s just 30 and already a great.

What are India’s chances in the World Cup?

If we play to potential and are injury-free, we can go the distance.

Which teams are the biggest threats for India?

The much-improved England have gone for one-day specialists and they will be playing at home. And you can never discount Australia with Smith and Warner back and the bowling attack they have.

Fitness will be crucial in a long, gruelling format.

The Indian pace attack will be in the hunt in England…

If it is overcast and the tracks have got something in it; they will be more than handy, especially the way they have have bowled in the last 12 months. Collectively they have been varied, accurate, hostile and deadly.

On the role bowling coach Bharat Arun played in the development of the pacemen…

Massive. He has been in the coaching system for over 20 years. He’s seen these guys at the academy. And his ability to communicate with them, in the manner he does, is a great help.

Jasprit Bumrah has added an additional dimension to the attack.

He’s an awkward customer with his action, gets steep bounce, his pace doesn’t drop and he’s got the skills. A massive asset.

The fielding standards have gone up.

Overall, catching, ground fielding, speed on the ground, the ability to create chances have all improved. Identifying and preparing fielders for catching positions is an area where Sridhar is very good.

You have shown a great faith in wrist spin and said Kuldeep Yadav will be India’s No. 1 Test spinner overseas.

I don’t want to go in that direction. What I meant to say was Kuldeep, a special talent who can only get stronger and wiser and is already bowling with good control, had become a contender who could even be first-choice overseas. It all depends on the conditions, the combination you want to go in with, whether you want an all-rounder.

For that matter, even Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja), when he got two opportunities overseas, did an excellent job. Any of the three can play depending on the opposition you are playing against and what combination you want. Jadeja can use the rough outside the left-hander’s off-stump, Kuldeep can use the rough both ways from over and round the wicket. Then you have Ash (Ashwin) with all his experience.

The Test series triumph down under was a path-breaking moment in Indian cricket.

There was desire, hunger, and the boys wanted it badly.

Your view on Cheteshwar Pujara’s rise?

Unbelievable concentration. Once he got in, you needed a stretcher to get him off in Australia.

Your reply to those who said there was some infighting within the side in Australia?

There wasn’t anything and we are not bothered. If anybody wants to cook up stories, be my guest. By the way, we won the series in Australia.

Where do you draw the line between aggression and bad behaviour?

With experience you know that you can’t get personal, you can’t go over the line, you play within the rules. But the intent should be there.

Your thoughts on the evolution of Rishabh Pant?

Grabbed his opportunities. Away hundreds at Oval and Sydney. Likes the big stage, has the confidence. Learned quickly, kept well. And he is just 21.

On the coordination between the team-management, the selection panel and Rahul Dravid…

The regular ‘A’ tours is a very good system BCCI has created. Stands you in good stead when you want to raise the bar.

Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, they are a good crop, good strength of mind. I interact with Rahul pretty regularly. Sometimes, more than runs and wickets, you are looking for balance in the eleven and the selectors have to look in a particular direction. They have done that very well.

What has been the most satisfying aspect in your tenure as a coach?

The Test-series win in Australia. I know how hard it is. When the job is done, you enjoy the moment. I must compliment the support staff. Arun, Sanjay [Bangar] and Sridhar for their remarkable work in a gruelling schedule. The hallmark of this team is ‘no excuses’. If you slip, you own up.

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