London: Ravi Shastri, a former India captain and cricket manager, spoke to The Telegraph on Thursday afternoon.
Q How do you explain such an extraordinary decline in India’s performance?
A No.1 reason being the play-safe tactics adopted in the third Test (Southampton)... It left a lot to be desired. Instead of turning defensive, India should have gone for the kill. Then, once England were allowed to get up from the mat, they smelt blood and, in Manchester, did to India what India should have done to them in Southampton.
So, it hasn’t been a mindset issue?
Not in Southampton, but in Manchester. The defeat in the third Test began playing on the mind, resulting in the pathetic show in Manchester... Nine wickets in one session is hard to digest.
Ishant Sharma becoming unavailable was a big factor in Southampton...
But India should have built on the momentum gained at Lord’s... India got the selection all wrong. Ravichandran Ashwin should have played instead of Stuart Binny. Somebody (Moeen Ali) supposed to be a part-timer was running through India’s batting, while India’s No.1 off-spinner was sitting in the dressing room! Clearly, India misread the wicket.
How much of the rap must be taken by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni?
Dhoni and the rest of the tour selection committee.
By nature, Dhoni likes taking the fight to the opposition. Seems strange that he took to safety-first so quickly (in Southampton)...
Took me by surprise as well.
After Lord’s, Dhoni’s tactics have come in for quite a bit of criticism...
All of the criticism hasn’t been fair. What can a captain do if the top batsmen (vice-captain Virat Kolhi and Cheteshwar Pujara) hardly score? Nos. 3 and 4 are such critical components in any team... In the first innings in Manchester, the first four batsmen didn’t total even 30 runs among themselves. Can you win if, batting first, you score as few as 152? Also, take out Ishant and the bowling is very short on experience.
What about coach Duncan Fletcher?
Fletcher has to take part of the blame... India’s think-tank needs to know that England have invested a lot in the drainage system at different grounds and, as a result, the surfaces have become a lot drier. That being so, spinning options have to be considered. Always.
Did the Ravindra Jadeja-James Anderson fracas take away from India’s focus?
Don’t know about that... What I do know is that Anderson got fired up and has bowled like a champion (21 wickets).
It’s “ridiculous,” as Nasser Hussain put it, that part-timer Ali has had such an impact. Your take?
I don’t agree with the “ridiculous” bit. Ali certainly hasn’t been bowling like a part-timer. Look at the way the ball is coming out and the line he’s been bowling... Nobody will call him a part-timer. That said, India should have played him much, much better.
Have personal issues distracted Kohli or is it a wholly cricket-related slump in form?
When things go wrong, then things get said. Kohli’s a professional and this series is a learning curve for him. He landed in England with a huge reputation and has been brought down to earth rather quickly. He’s been found out outside off. Fact is Anderson, in particular, has got Kohli in a trance.
[Kohli has fallen to Anderson four times.]
How does one explain key man Pujara’s lack of runs?
It’s surprising... Usually, Pujara builds on starts, but he hasn’t done so on this tour. What’s more surprising is that Ali has got him a couple of times.
What would you tell Kohli and Pujara?
That both have to work on their footwork, their technique. Every batsman goes through low phases and there’s nothing to be ashamedof in going back to the drawing board.
Do we bring back Shikhar Dhawan? Gautam Gambhir cut a sorry figure in Manchester...
Yes. To be fair to Gambhir, he hadn’t played any cricket for many weeks and had just been sitting in the dressing room.
What should be the India XI at The Oval?
If fit, then Ishant for Pankaj Singh... The other change should be Dhawan for Gambhir.
[Later, the team management confirmed Ishant was available for selection.]
The Oval, generally, has true bounce...
Traditionally, the bounce has been good... Later on, the spinners come into play.
Looking back, have India been very bad in the last two Tests or have England become very good?
With the Anderson-Stuart Broad combination firing on multiple cylinders, England have grown in confidence. But India haven’t lost the series and have the chance to make it 2-2. That would be a good effort... India should be positive and look the opposition in the eye. If the intent is there, then plenty can happen.
Advice for Dhoni?
Forget the last two Tests... The series is still alive... Make it 2-2.
Some words on England captain Alastair Cook...
Anderson’s brilliance has helped Cook... The way he’s handled Ali has been a revelation, though... As a batsman, Cook hasn’t been at his fluent best.
Has Cook shown himself to be a leader, not just a captain?
The jury is still out on Cook as captain. England would be better off getting somebody else to captain, thereby allowing him to focus on batting. England need Cook the batsman a lot more than Cook the captain.
Lastly... What have the past few weeks taught us?
It’s not done to play safe when the opposition is on the mat. Why turn defensive when you should actually be going for the kill?