The 5-0 whitewash in the T20I series and the two upcoming Tests in Wellington and Christchurch “matter more right now” and the 50-over format “remains relatively irrelevant” at the moment, the coach said.
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Speaking to TOI from Hamilton, Shastri put things in perspective, saying, “We need 100 points to be in contention to play at Lord’s (in the World Test Championship final). Two overseas wins out of six Tests will keep us in good stead. We play six Tests overseas this year (two in NZ and four in Australia). So, that’s one objective. The other is to play like the world’s No. 1 Test team, because that’s what this team believes in more than anything else. On the Test front, that’s what we’re looking at.”
The head coach is excited at the prospect of new faces stepping up and making themselves count. Prithvi Shaw‘s return to the Test team and Shubman Gill‘s possible debut are among them. “Both are supremely exciting talents. Regardless of who gets into the XI in Wellington, the fact of the matter is they’re here, part of India’s national squad, and from here on they should know that the sky remains the limit,” the coach added.
Shastri, along with skipper Virat Kohli and other senior members in the team, has been watching Gill closely for two years now. “He’s phenomenally talented. His approach to batting is very clear and he exhibits a very positive mindset. That’s very exciting for a boy who’s just 20 going on 21,” Shastri said.
Between Gill and Shaw, one will open the batting with Mayank Agarwal, who floundered in the One-dayers but has proven his worth in the red-ball format. “They’re all from the same school, you know. They love facing the new ball, enjoy a challenge. Rohit is unfortunately out (with a calf muscle injury) so that puts Shubman and Prithvi in contention to open with Mayank. That competition is necessary and that’s what makes a bunch of 15 look strong and stable,” he added.
Injuries have taken a heavy toll on this team. Also absent are Shikhar Dhawan, Hardik Pandya, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma. The pressure of constant cricket has also played a part. “Around four to five of our core are missing. Bhuvi could’ve been extremely useful in the conditions here, but never mind. That’s why I said, having options available are always in the best interests of the team,” the coach said.
Pacer Ishant Sharma is not back to full fitness yet and will not make himself available for the first Test. With Bhuvneshwar also not around, the responsibility will fall on Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami. “That’s precisely how they’ve been managing their workload right now. The T20s were important because that’s the format that’s important this year and the next (because of the T20 World Cups). Test cricket is always paramount. We can only hope the rest of the boys return fully fit at the earliest,” said Shastri.
The 5-0 win in T20 Internationals was exhilarating but not to the extent that this Indian team was convinced about a possible domination in the format. There’s still work to be done, according to Shastri. “That 5-0 win could’ve been 3-2, 4-1. As we might acknowledge, the eventual result is what counts. The series was ours no doubt but the 5-0 sweep was like an icing. Now, the thing is how convincingly we can pull off matches like that. Bilaterals are the perfect space to try new things, mix things up, get in some new faces. That’s what we’ve been doing. Around four to five guys in the team right now are less than 22 years of age. It’s up to them how they take advantage of these opportunities coming their way,” he said.
The coach is also excited about the added responsibility KL Rahul took upon himself of keeping wickets. Rahul has also been batting exceptionally well. “It’s almost like he finds himself all the more involved because of the added responsibility. He’s in a great space and some rest will do him a world of good,” said Shastri.
COACH ON PRITHVI SHAW: “It’s great to have Prithvi back. The more time he spends with the team, the faster he’ll get back into the groove. He’s a phenomenal talent and he has the best available opportunity to make use of it. The challenge therefore lies with the cricketer too, as to how he takes it up and works his way forward. I’m sure he’ll make the most of it.”
ON SHUBMAN GILL: “What a wonderful talent. I have been watching him closely for two years now and the way he’s gone about it, it was only a matter of time before he got here. Whether or not he plays in this Test (Wellington), we know for sure that he’s here to stay.”
ON SPATE OF INJURIES: “We’ve taken it on the chin. Close to five of our core players have been missing due to injuries and it’s been hard on them and the team as well. Bhuvneshwar would’ve been extremely useful, across formats, here. Ishant takes up so much of the workload upon himself in Tests, so that gets shared now. It’s been hard on everyone. But then, injuries happen and it’s a long road ahead.”