Hate to see player of Rohit's quality sitting in reserves - Shastri

India head coach Ravi Shastri talks about wanting Rohit Sharma to open in Tests, Jasprit Bumrah's injury, evolution of the team and more.

Ravi Shastri keeps a close eye on proceedings as India and South Africa battle it out in Visakhapatnam.   -  K.R. Deepak

Ravi Shastri enjoyed the panoramic view through the hotel window as the sun bounced off the Bay of Bengal. 

In good spirits after the team’s emphatic win over South Africa in the first Test, the India coach’s answers in an exclusive conversation with Sportstar were sharp, precise and honest.

Q: The big positive for you from the Test here?

A: A fast bowler [Mohammed Shami] taking five wickets in the second innings in India. 

Q: Your impressions on Shami? He has evolved. 

A: I give him a lot of credit. From where he has come from in the last 18 months. He has had personal issues, but to bounce back from that and bowl the way he did is remarkable. He is relentless. As a batsman I would have hated to face him. He is at you all the time, he is very skilful and in conditions like yesterday few bowlers in the world are better than him.

Q: How concerned are you about Jasprit Bumrah’s stress fracture of the back?

A: Very concerned because he is precious, he’s special, he’s different, and he’s a match-winner. They are taking opinions on whether he needs surgery. We have to be careful about his workload because he plays all three formats.  

Q: Hardik Pandya too underwent a surgery for a back injury recently.

A: His surgery was successful. What the recovery shows we will know in two weeks' time. He’s a game-changer and ideally we would want him in every format.

Q: Rohit Sharma has been off to a dream start in his first Test as an opener.  

A: I would hate to see a player of his quality sitting in the reserves. In the West Indies I was very clear that he should open and had a chat with [Virat] Kohli about it. This was his opportunity.

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Rohit Sharma became the first batsman to score twin centuries in his first Test as an opener.   -  AFP

Q: You worked your way up the order to be a successful Test opener.

A: It is the mindset. A lot of guys in India should have opened the batting in the last 20 years for the sake of the team balance but they didn’t have the stomach for it. You have to put mind over matter. You got to respect the new ball and assess the conditions.

Who would have thought Virender Sehwag would average nearly 50 in Tests. But he conquered those first 20 minutes against the new ball. I don’t think any other opener actually enjoyed opening like he did.

Q: Do you see similarities between Rohit and Sehwag? 

A: Both destroyers, both with the ability to score very big given the tempo with which they play. 

Q: How impressed were you with R. Ashwin’s bowling in his comeback Test?

A: He’s world class. A top-class off-spinner. But the demands of the game are such that you got to keep at it, perform match after match. You cannot afford to rest on your laurels. It’s the same with everyone in the team. 

Q: Ravindra Jadeja has been making strides, with the bat and the ball.

A: Excellent team-man, has realised his potential and you will now see the best of him. Realising potential is easier said than done but he has arrived after that astonishing innings in the World Cup semifinal. With the ball, he’s accurate. If it starts spinning, he is lethal. And a brilliant fielder.

Q: India now has a varied attack that can sting.

A: We have the variety to take 20 wickets. This game is not about runs. Runs are important. But 20 wickets are most important.

Read: Bumrah, Shami, Ishant: Indian team's first deadly pace attack

Q: Does the team have an open mind about M.S. Dhoni returning to the shorter formats? 

A: He will go down as one of our greatest players, very, very high up the list. Two World Cups, role model, what he has done for CSK, for the white-ball game, on top of that he’s played 90 Tests.     

Whether he wants to come back, that’s for him to decide. I have not met him after the World Cup. He has to first start playing and let’s see how things go. I don’t think he has started playing after the World Cup. If he is keen, he will definitely let the selectors know.

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India, under Virat Kohli's captaincy, won a Test series on Australian soil for the first time.   -  AFP

Q: To win the Test series in New Zealand, never easy, will be India’s next major away challenge.

A: We won a Test series in Australia after 71 years. West Indies had beaten a strong England team at home in Tests and we absolutely smashed them. We like to go and play against tough teams in their backyard. We are confident against New Zealand. We are the No. 1 team in the world.

Q: Isn’t it important for India to find a stable No. 4 in the shorter formats with the World Twenty20 next year?

A: It is very easy for us to drop Kohli to No. 4. Then you will have the best No. 4 in the world. But it takes time. Now Shreyas Iyer has been excellent in the last three months. He can be a really good No. 4. 

Q: What convinced the team management to drop Rishabh Pant and pick Wriddhiman Saha in the Test eleven?

A: Saha was injured and that was the reason Pant came into the Test side. Saha is the best ‘keeper in the world, and at home, where the bounce can be variable, his ‘keeping is invaluable. Pant has scored Test hundreds in England and Australia, is talented, but he is still very young and has the time to improve his ‘keeping. 

Q: What is the philosophy of this Indian team?

A: This Indian team is about the team and not individuals. Some tough calls have to be made. Imagine Kuldeep Yadav not playing a Test since his five-wicket innings haul in Sydney. It is never nice or easy to tell people who have performed that you are not picked. But this is about the team.