India have lost their last four international games on their tour of New Zealand, following up a 3-0 defeat in the ODI series with a 10-wicket loss in the first Test in Wellington, which snapped a seven-match winning streak in the format. Their coach Ravi Shastri, however, isn’t perturbed.
“I wouldn’t judge ODI and Test cricket [together], they are totally different things,” he said on the eve of the second Test in Christchurch. “For us, the least priority is ODI cricket at the moment. Because of the schedule and what’s coming up in the next two years (the immediate global events are the ongoing World Test Championship cycle and the T20 World Cup later this year).
“Our focus is Test cricket, number one, and T20 cricket. If you look at that, we have had a great run in the Test arena. We’ve played eight and won seven. One loss, there is absolutely no need to panic, neither is anyone looking in that direction when you look at this team. They are ready, they would have learnt what to expect. They know what to expect and they are mentally tuned and ready. Now it’s the execution part when it comes to tomorrow.”
At the time of Shastri’s press conference, it wasn’t yet known if Ishant Sharma might miss the Test match with a recurrence of the ankle injury he had picked up last month. In any case, whichever fast bowlers India go in with would do well to heed Shastri’s words on how to bowl on a green, seaming pitch. He pointed to the approach of Tim Southee and Trent Boult at Wellington as the ideal one for such conditions.
“Like on a paata (flat) wicket, batsmen must think whether to hit or to defend. Similarly here, [the fast bowlers] have to strike the right balance and be patient, which Southee and Boult showed you,” Shastri said. “What New Zealand showed in the first game, do exactly that. Be patient, get more balls in the right areas, create the pressure, and then take it from there. It is very easy to get excited and then bowl all over the shop and then be hammered all over the place.”
There was a sense that Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami weren’t quite at their best in Wellington, but Shastri dismissed those concerns.
“Bumrah is very close to getting a five-for or a six-for, might happen tomorrow,” he said. “Then don’t come and tell me I told you so. That can happen tomorrow. Similarly with Shami, so nothing to worry about.”
After India were bowled out for 165 in Wellington, their bowlers, led by Ishant, struck back to have New Zealand 225 for 7, before the last three wickets swelled the lead to match-winning proportions, adding 123 runs at more than four-and-a-half per over. Leaking runs against the lower order has been an issue for India in the past as well, and Shastri said India would need to find ways to improve on that front.
“That is a good question because it has been a problem for us in the last year or so,” he said. “In spite of us doing well, there have been days when we’ve just cleaned up the tail, on other days where there has been some resistance.
“We have had a chat on that, how to look into bowling at the tail. Either at times, are we being over-aggressive, or at times are we being too defensive. We have had a chat on that and we will look to address it in a different manner. You will see it.”
R Ashwin was India’s spinner in Wellington, and though he bowled well and picked up three wickets, he failed to get into double figures in both innings to continue a worrying run of lean form with the bat.
“He is a world-class bowler, there is absolutely no doubt about it,” Shastri said. “But we have to make sure that we pick the right sides for the right conditions and see what a player can bring to the table. He has bowled well over the years and, if anything, he will be disappointed with the way he has batted. He would want to improve on his batting in time to come.”
Ravindra Jadeja, with his ability to bowl tight overs in most conditions and exploit wear and tear if there’s any in the second innings, would be a more defensive bowling option than Ashwin, if India were to pick him as their spinner, but his outstanding batting form – he averages nearly 50 in Tests since the start of 2017 – would make him a tempting option.
“You will see how much of a role a spinner has, first of all,” Shastri said, when asked about what factors India would consider when it came to picking their spinner. “How many overs you think he is going to bowl in the game. Is there going to be something for him on day four/five. Will the second innings be that important. Do you need him more in the first innings of a game. Is his batting going to count. Is his fielding going to count. Is his overall fitness going to count.
“Those are areas you look into, not just for spinners. When you have four fast bowlers, you have to pick three and leave one out, same thing happens.”
Shastri also revealed the thought process behind Rishabh Pant taking back the wicketkeeping gloves from Wriddhiman Saha in this Test series.
“Again, conditions. We went for Saha in India because there would be a lot of spin, and on turning tracks where bounce could be uneven, you need an experienced keeper and Saha is, to be honest, one of the best around,” he said. “But when you come here, there is not much of spin bowling. Emphasis is on fast bowling, and then the batting becomes a key factor. Plus the fact that he (Pant) is a left-hander, an aggressive batsman lower down the order, that tilts the scales in his favour here.”
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.