After an emphatic 3-1 series win over England that saw India reach the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) final, coach Ravi Shastri lavished praise on his team for overcoming many hurdles like a change in the points system, staying in a bubble for months and also the injuries that came along the way. However, he obliged that there were a few positives to emerge out of all this, one of them was that India found new players stepping up to the plate and delivering when needed. He was also quick to acknowledge captain Virat Kohli’s role in turning this squad into a bunch of match-winners.
Speaking of the abundance of talent, Shastri in a press conference said: "That’s the most positive thing to come out of the bubble. Because of the bubble, you had to go with large squads. Normally you would go with 17-18. But with the quarantine rule that exists, you had to go in with 30-35 in certain cases. As a result of which, you had to dig deep and pick your best 30 players. As luck would have it, we had no choice but to play each of the 30 players. It’s a good headache to have. It’s something that has worked well."
“You would have never imagined the number of players who would have played for India, six months ago. If you think Natarajan would have played a Test match? No way, you would have said. Will Washington Sundar play a Test match? No way. These are things you would not imagine, but circumstances made it happen. I’m glad that the youngsters who got the opportunity grabbed it with both hands,” he further added.
Shastri was visibly unhappy with the way changes were brought about in the WTC points system. He felt that it was not right to change the system, which impacted India greatly as they slipped from the No.1 position to third without playing any cricket after the points percentage came into place. “If you ask me the problem with the WTC first cycle: please don’t shift the goal post. I am sitting at home in Covid. You have more points than any other team in the world – 360 at that time. Suddenly, a week later, without playing any cricket, there’s some rule that comes that they’re going to go with percentage system. So, you go from No.1 to No.3 in a week. Fine, that’s because countries not wanting to travel. I want to understand the logic behind it.”
He further explained, “What is the way forward for me? Sitting on the top of the table comfortably leading by 60-70 points. They say no, you have to go to Australia and beat them. How many teams in the last 10 years have gone to Australia and say guarantee will beat Australia? If you don’t beat Australia, you have to come home and beat England 4-0, you’ll get close to 500 points, you still don’t qualify. We have had to dig deep, we have had to go down every hole that’s needed to find water. We found it and earned our right to be in the World Test Championship final with 520 points.”
Rishabh Pant has been a pivotal figure in helping India make it to the WTC final. He played a match-winning knock at The Gabba to help India seal the series Down Under. And in the recently-concluded series against England, his 101 in the final Test helped rescue his side from a precarious position as India went on to win by an innings to seal the series 3-1. While admitting that he was not at his best before the Australia tour, Shastri lauds the wicketkeeper-batsman's transformation since then.
"After the IPL, he came with a lot of baggage which showed in his size and he had to lose that baggage, which he did," quipped Shastri.
"He worked his backside off to lose it. He has trained harder than anyone else in the last two months. The results are not just for him to see, but the world to see. When you have a naturally brilliant match-winner, of his ability, playing to potential, there's no greater sight in cricket. In the last two months what he has done - to win matches for India - there'll be players who won't do it in a lifetime and would have never done it. At the age of 21 to pull of magic like he has done after working as hard as he has to show then show it in his wicketkeeping. You add the runs, the match-winning efforts and 'keeping improving and the hard work he has put in. He was told in no uncertain terms that this game demands respect much more than what you do, which he did. He is reaping the rewards," the India head coach added.
Asked if he sees glimpses of himself in Washington Sundar, Shastri said, "I think Washy has far more natural ability than I had. He has the ability and he belongs at this level and he can go a long way. If he could focus on his bowling (in Tests), India could have a very good number six for overseas conditions. Someone who can get you those 50s, 60s and 70s and then bowl for you 20 overs and can pick up 2-3 wickets. That was my role overseas (during whole of 1980s) and I think he can do that role easily."
The veteran of 80 Tests also suggested Washington should start batting in the top four for Tamil Nadu across formats. "Definitely, he should be batting in the top four for his state. There is no question about that. I would like to have a word with Tamil Nadu selectors or DK (captain Dinesh Karthik) for that matter. I think he should be batting in the top four," Shastri said.
For Shastri, Washington's innings of 96, coming in at 153 for 6 was a better effort than his 85 not out in Chennai. "Washington Sundar, this is unreal. Facing some of the toughest bowlers in the world. I would say this innings was far better as the WTC was on line," he added.
India are back in action in limited-overs fixtures, when they take on on England in a five-match T20 International (T20I) series, beginning from March 12 in Ahmedabad. This will be followed by the ODI series, starting March 23 in Pune. However, all eyes will be on the WTC final between India and New Zealand, which is scheduled to be played at Lord's from June 18.
(With inputs from PTI)