Shastri: Ashwin and Jadeja, the winning spin

"R. Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja complement each other beautifully. They are different bowlers, yet if you are a batsman out there, you will realise that they are at you all the time. And in conditions where there is some assistance, they can be a handful," says Ravi Shastri.

Ravi Shastri... "If the quality of the spinner is as good as Ravichandran Ashwin, he will play everywhere."   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

Forging a winning combination... spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.   -  AKHILESH KUMAR

Ravi Shastri is not the one to mince words when called upon to make an observation. He has been in the line of fire though from his former team-mates and the media.

The cricketing fraternity in India saw the other side of Shastri when he became the Director of Team India in July 2014. Recently, he was in the forefront of the brigade – which included India Test captain Virat Kohl and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin – that was quite strident in defending the spin-friendly pitches designed for the home series against South Africa. Shastri went to the extent of saying that India would even play four spinners before the start of the four-Test series.

In the first part of the interview with Sportstar, Shastri talks at length about the India’s spin department and the potential of Virat Kohli’s Test team.

Excerpts:

Question: Does Virat Koli’s team have the potential to give Indian cricket the 1971 moments, when Ajit Wadekar’s team scored a historic first Test series wins in the West Indies and England?

Answer: Absolutely, no question about that. I have no doubt in my mind. In fact, his team has already done enough, which any of the 1971 Indian teams that won in the West Indies and England would be proud of. This team is fully capable of (giving the 1971 moments). This team beat Sri Lanka 2-1 in Sri Lanka after 22 years, and beat South Africa, a team that had not lost overseas for nearly 10 years. These are real achievements. I am sure, the players of the 1971 Indian team would be proud of this performance.

Wadekar’s team fielded three or four spinners to shock the West Indies (Post of Spain) and England (The Oval). Will this Indian team ever pick two or more spinners in their playing XI?

If they (spinners) provide the right balance then they will be played. It also depends on the conditions. If the quality of the spinner is as good as Ravichandran Ashwin, he will play everywhere.

Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have combined well in two home Test series – against Australia two years ago, when they claimed 53 wickets between them, and now against South Africa, when they shared 54 wickets. Have they done enough to be in the playing XI in the future for home and away series?

Why not? What was great about Jadeja was that, after he was dropped from the side, he took time to reflect, understand his own game, think for himself and come up with the goods. This is the fact. And to me what was very important was his batting. His innings was very crucial in almost every Test match against South Africa. If he can bat like that and continue to improve, then you have an all-rounder you would want to play anywhere because he keeps the balance of the side going.

Do you see in Jadeja the potential to become an all-rounder in the mould of Vinoo Mankad, who was considered a canny left-arm spinner, or someone like you? Salim Durani did not do justice to his batting talent while Yuvraj Singh has remained an underachiever…

Jadeja has the potential. He is still very young. I think there are areas of his batting that he can work on. The thing about him is that he is a very good thinking cricketer. There is a lot of natural talent in him. The fact that he was prepared to introspect into his game, become wiser and better was the best thing to have happened. If one looks at his innings – I have mentioned every time that India was in a spot of bother – he came up with 30s and 20s, which showed that there has been a massive improvement in his temperament. I still feel he has got everything as a bowler; he’s accurate and at the batsmen all the time. If he can develop a little more guile as a bowler, he will play regularly for India.

 

You talked about Ashwin’s quality, but in spite of being the leading spinner, he did not play all Test matches in South Africa, England and Australia, and none in New Zealand. Should a spinner of his quality be dissected after every innings of a Test match? It did give an impression that the team management and captain were not convinced of his abilities last year…

Not at all. He did not play the first Test in Adelaide (2014) because he had work to do. The fact that he was prepared to go back to the basics, work his backside off and go through the grind is a tribute to his work ethic. And it paid off.

Would you say that Indian cricket is truly blessed with these two spinners?

Absolutely. They complement each other beautifully. They are different bowlers, yet if you are a batsman out there, you will realise that they are at you all the time. And in conditions where there is some assistance, they can be a handful as South Africa found out.

Wrist spinner Amit Mishra has done well when given the chance. From the time he began playing, he is the second highest wicket taker (65 from 18 Tests), the first being Pakistan’s Yasir Shah, who has taken 76 in 13/14 months. Mishra has not been chosen for 54 Tests matches after he made his debut. And whenever he has played, India has won 61 per cent of the Test matches?

Mishra has really worked hard and I like that. He is very much in the picture when it comes to playing Test matches. I have no doubt about that. I still feel there is a lot of cricket left in him. The way he bowled in Sri Lanka was extremely good, and if ever there is a thought of playing three spinners, then he will be the man in the side.

(To be concluded)