‘Consistency’ a buzzword for Ravi Shastri

The India team director looked to keep up the quality performances of his unit, and indicated MS Dhoni, who will return in the limited-overs' side as the captain, may move up the order so he could stop doing the 'dirty work'. Indian players and the support staff were at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru in preparation for the visiting South Africans.

While Rohit Sharma will be back to his comfort zone, Ajinkya Rahane will want to diminish his brittleness, in the upcoming eight limited-overs internationals against South Africa. The two are seen alongside Virat Kohli in the nets at the NCA   -  K Bhagya Prakash

Indian spin trio of R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra wait for their chance to bowl in the training camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru   -  K Bhagya Prakash

"MS Dhoni has done the dirty work for years. Give him the chance to enjoy himself": Shastri indicated the India captain may be moved up the order to No. 4   -  K Bhagya Prakash

Assurance of faith allows incumbents in any field to find their voice and scythe through cynicism. Winning squads in any sport are built around an approach of continuity, a fact that now appears to be recognised with regards to the India coaching staff by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

“Take your job,” said India team director Ravi Shastri on Friday. “If your boss tells you, you are here for just a month, and after a month I will decide if you carry on with your job, how will you feel? Very simple.”

Such convenience matters a lot, particularly when in charge of a young side which is out to make a mark. Now that Shastri and his coaching mates – Bharath Arun (bowling), R. Sridhar (fielding) and Sanjay Bangar (batting) – have been given tenures extending till the World Twenty20 next March, and with a captain in sync with the coaches, it feels like a step in the right direction. For evidence as to what it can achieve, one just needs to look back to the John Wright – Sourav Ganguly and Gary Kirsten – M.S. Dhoni eras. “I treat it as a challenge,” Shastri said.

“It is a responsibility, which I have never backed away from. In anything I have done in life. It is a brilliant young team. You have seen their performances over the last year. I don’t have to say much. The endeavour will be to keep that consistency going till we are in charge.”

Set against this stability and continuity, ask the very same coaches and managers what makes their teams click, flexibility will be one thing they will vouch for; in tactics and strategy. “Nobody is in a comfort zone,” he insisted. “It’s only when you get into a comfort zone that you say he has [now] got out of his comfort zone. As a batsman in the top-order you should be prepared to bat everywhere; as the team demands. There were unforeseen circumstances. You had Shikhar [Dhawan] injured, breaking his arm. And M. Vijay. We never had our two regular openers fully fit [in Sri Lanka].”

“Never a permanent strategy,” he said about the five-bowler theory. “You have got to respect the conditions. You can’t go and say I am going to go with this team. Because it will backfire if the conditions are totally different.”

Even the split-captaincy between M.S. Dhoni and Virat Kohli didn’t seem to affect Shastri much. “No difference. They played under him in the World Cup the last time. They played under him in Bangladesh. So what’s different now? They are playing under a champion.”

Such a fluid approach involving a degree of role-reversal perhaps finds its best expression in limited overs cricket, a format which the Indians will play first-up against the visiting South Africans. And thus at the nets on Friday, the batsmen in the spin-trio of R. Ashwin, Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh were tested. So were the three all-rounders in Stuart Binny, Gurkeerat Singh and Axar Patel. Dhoni even rolled his arm over, though that doesn’t suggest much.

Yet, a tinge of uncertainty in the batting line-up is unmistakable. Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, the most-talked about batsmen in recent times, will for once exchange grades of comfort levels. Rohit holds a more settled position in ODIs and Rahane was dropped against Bangladesh. Skipper Dhoni’s finishing acts have been on ice and there have been indications that he might move up the order.

“Don’t you think it is about time?” asked Shastri. “He has done the dirty work for years. Give him the chance to enjoy himself. You are talking of probably one of the greatest captains and players to have played the game.”

Dhoni, however, did what he does best. After a few mishits, he hoisted a bunch of net bowlers routinely into the empty stands at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. In this he was preceded by Kohli, Rohit and Rahane — who might have been there to break the shackles Test cricket binds you to – and then joined by Ambati Rayudu.

Against South Africa, India will need all of this and even more. “You have got to respect the fact they are the No. 1 in the world,” said Shastri. “They play well overseas; better than any other side. Their record shows that. We know what we are up against. The respect is there, but we won’t take any backwards steps.”