Calcutta: Ravi Shastri, a former India captain and cricket manager, spoke to The Telegraph on Tuesday evening.
Q What are your thoughts on the eve of the Test series in England?
A That the teams are evenly matched... The first two Tests (Trent Bridge, Lord’s) will be critical and the team which has its head up at that stage could dominate the rest of the series too.
Can India erase some of the rather bad memories of the last tour of England, three summers ago?
Absolutely. India’s current batsmen don’t have the baggage of the past and they have everything to gain, nothing to lose. It’s time for our boys to play good, solid Test match cricket... Bat for long periods.
[Of the specialist batsmen, only Gautam Gambhir, picked as the third opener this time, featured in the 2011 Test series.]
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the one with most experience — 83 Tests. Way behind is Ishant Sharma (55)...
Overseas, Dhoni has to take more responsibility as a Test batsman. He should bat at No. 6, which would allow five bowlers to be played. Clearly, he has to make an impact at that position.
Would you convey this to Dhoni in person?
Most certainly, if I was in Nottingham and not here.
The fear is that England may actually come back hard, after the defeat at the hands of Sri Lanka in the recent Test series. What do you feel?
That wouldn’t come as a surprise. Having said that, the conditions will have a huge role to play. So far, it has been hot and dry, conditions to suit India.
But should we read too much into England’s 0-1 loss to Lanka?
A loss is a loss... There’s a lot of pressure on captain (Alastair) Cook and we should let that stay. In the past, we’ve either been scared or shy of playing five bowlers in a Test match. We should now.
It’s a five-Test series, so there’s enough chance to bounce back...
That’s right. Equally, the team with momentum could continue to reap dividends.
One point is that India’s cricketers have, for the past many months, only been playing limited overs stuff at different levels. Is that a disadvantage?
That England have only just finished a Test series is bound to hold them in good stead... India’s batsmen have to adapt and be very disciplined... In England, the trick is to weather the first hour or 90 minutes and then consolidate. Test cricket demands long spells of batting and, in England particularly, you have to be circumspect early on.
With the warm-up matches nowadays reduced to pretty much a farce, to what extent should we take delight in India’s win over Derbyshire?
I have a simple answer: I’d rather win than lose. If we’d lost to Derbyshire, everybody would have been sitting on Dhoni’s head.
Your take on getting Rahul Dravid to mentor the batsmen in the lead-up to the series?
It was a good, swift move from the Board... Rahul always wanted to do something on those lines... He should be used more often, not just by the batsmen, but the bowlers as well. I’d like the bowlers to talk to Rahul about the lengths they should be bowling to specific batsmen. They should pick his brain.
[Dravid left Nottingham after the final practice session, on Tuesday, ahead of the series.]
Talking of the bowling... Do we have the bowlers to take 20 wickets in every Test?
Well, the bowling is a weak area and we’re short on experience... But it’s time for Ishant to step up... He has to accept more responsibility. I expect Ishant and Mohammed Shami to play key roles. Come what may, the bowlers have to support each other.
In recent years, we’ve been back to struggling overseas. Why?
Because of the lack of bowlers who can take 20 wickets in each Test. We haven’t struggled only when we’ve had the bowling.
What would be your India XI?
I’d open with Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, followed by Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Dhoni and Stuart Binny. The remaining four bowlers would depend on the conditions — one spinner (Ravindra Jadeja) or two.
Uncapped Binny’s in your line-up...
Yes... I’d like to see Stuart at No.7.
Is James Anderson still the dangerman?
Anderson and Stuart Broad.
In 2011, Dhoni was under pressure. This time, it’s Cook... What does this say?
hat, in sport, such things happen... We have to unsettle Cook early on, like we did David Gower in the 1986 series... The media went after him and he lost the captaincy. But while Cook’s under pressure, he’s a tough cookie mentally. You have to give that to him.
Could this be Cook’s last series as captain?
Depends on the result.
For a captain, what makes the difference in Test matches?
The quality of the bowling. Captains need wicket-taking bowlers.
Generally, what counts for the most in Test cricket?
Strength of character. It’s put to test and the ones with character come out stronger.
What brought you to Calcutta this time?
I’m a goodwill ambassador for the NSHM Knowledge Campus and I had a session with the youth on the ‘DNA of a Champion’... I’d like to see the Campus, in Calcutta and in Durgapur at this point in time, grow across India.
The final one... What goes into the making of a champion?
(Laughs) Big dreams, immense hard work, plenty of self-belief... You have to believe that ‘impossible’ is just another word.