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Terrific series on the cards: Shastri

- ‘Kohli is going along beautifully’

Ravi Shastri

Calcutta: With the Wankhede pitch controversy still very much fresh, Ravi Shastri, India's team director, has once again poked at the subject as he stressed that home teams over the years have always got pitches prepared to suit their strengths and so there is no need to "hide behind that issue".

Shastri was speaking in Mohali, in the lead-up to India's first Test of the four-match series against South Africa, starting Thursday.

"I believe at home, you should play to your strength... There is no need to hide behind that issue. It has been happening over the years and that's what you expect in your own country. You don't expect a pitch to turn on Day I when you go to South Africa or Australia. So it will be interesting to see how this pitch (in Mohali) is," Shastri said.

He, however, added that he expects an interesting series nevertheless. "I see a terrific series on the cards, probably the best we have had in the last ten years. That's because of the cricket that South Africa have played in the last few years," he said.

Asked about his alleged spat with Sudhir Naik, Wankhede's consultant curator, Shastri said: "That incident is history, let's talk about now. I have spoken about that enough and there is nothing to add and not a word to subtract."

Moving away from the subject, Shastri praised Test captain Virat Kohli.

"Kohli has now been the Test captain for long enough. He is going along beautifully... The win in Sri Lanka was a test of character for the boys and for him as well and he rose to the occasion.

He will only learn from there. As I have said, this side's average age is 25-26, the captain is also around that age and so this team has plenty of years ahead of them.

"The best thing that is happening to them is that they are up against the best Test side in the world. So it's good to play the best team in the world... That's when you learn the maximum.

Shastri has also indicated that Ravichandran Ashwin, who is recovering from an injury, might play the opening Test.

Ashwin, who suffered a side strain during the first ODI in Kanpur, could not participate in the last four games against the visitors.

"Ashwin is bowling magnificently... He is absolutely fine," said Shastri.

But he was quick to add: "We have got two other spinners, who might just surprise if they focus too much on."

Ashwin went through elaborate practice drills during the team's training session at the PCA stadium on Tuesday.

Apart from bowling in tandem with other spinners, the 29-year-old player was also involved in a football game that the cricketers played before moving to the net session.

Ashwin, who led the bowling charts by bagging 20 wickets in three games against Sri Lanka during the last Test series, is India's main weapon against a formidable South African batting line-up, led by skipper Hashim Amla. When reminded about the series against Australia in 2001, which India won by a 2-1 margin, Shastri said: "I can't remember a series since then as big as this one... So the opportunity is there for the team to go out and show their mettle. If they end on the winning side, nothing like it, it will be brilliant.

"Earlier, it were the West Indies in the 80s... When you saw those kind of teams coming in, you wanted to win a Test match. It was always a big moment in Indian cricket. That's why I keep saying that this is going to be one of the biggest series in a long time."

South Africa, who have won the T20I and the ODI series, come into the Tests as favourites. Now they have the chance to capture the trophies in all three formats in a tour. Shastri, a former India cpatin, has a different take on the matter. "I look at it the other way... I put it right back on South Africa. They have been unbeaten... India have a great opportunity to upstage that and do something special. If India beat South Africa, they will go up two three places in the rankings. I am someone who always looks at what is positive," he said.

As far as Mohali is concerned, India have won four of their last five Tests at the PCA Stadium.

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