South Africa are top side but we won't step back: Ravi Shastri

Bengaluru: Indian Team Director Ravi Shastri today said that South Africa are still a formidable side despite the retirement of some big players recently but his side will continue their aggressive brand of cricket in the upcoming series beginning on October 2.

"It is like asking me about Indian team without (Sachin) Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble - players will come and go, but you got to respect the fact that SA are world number one side," Shastri said at a press conference when asked about the visiting side who are coming without the likes of retired Jacques Kallis.

Ravi Shastri,Team Selector Roger Binny and Virat Kohli during the preparatory camp
Ravi Shastri, Team Selector Roger Binny and Virat Kohli during the preparatory camp. Pic/ PTI

"South Africa are a stiff opposition. They play well in overseas conditions better than any other side in world cricket. They travelled better than any other team and records will show that. And so we what we are up against. The respect is there but we will not take any backward steps," he told reporters at the National Cricket Academy where Indian team is holding a camp.

South Africa are coming to India for a more than two-month long tour which begins with a limited overs series. India and South Africa begin the series with a Twenty20 International at Dharamsala on October 2.

The former India all-rounder brushed aside any talk of Mahendra Singh's possible rustiness to lead the side against South Africa in the limited over matches. India last played an ODI in June in Bangladesh and Dhoni -- who has retired from Test, led the side.

"No problem at all. You are talking about a season campaigner, one of the legends, one of the all-time greats in world cricket and not only of Indian cricket, you know I am saying as a captain. He (Dhoni) takes over a job he has been doing and so it is nothing new," Shastri said.

"Everything fits into place automatically. For the team there is no difference, they played under him in the World Cup. The last time they played an ODI, they played under MS in Bangladesh. What is the difference, they are playing under a champion. What else do you want!," he said.

Asked it's high time that Dhoni bats up the order, Shastri said the captain himself will take a call on the day. He said it's time for him to enjoy the game because he had been doing "dirty work" for years. "Don't you think it is about time? He has done the dirty work for donkey's years. Give him a chance to enjoy himself. You are talking of probably the greatest ODI captains and players. Don't worry about MS he will decide on the day whether to bat up the order," he said.

Shastri said that no batsman in the Indian team was in the comfort zone and they should be prepared to bat in any position. "Nobody is in a comfort zone. As a batsman in the top order you should be prepared to bat anywhere as the team demands. Now these were unforeseen circumstances, otherwise they would not have to do it... like we had to face when Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan both were injured," said Shastri.

The unavailability of Dhawan and Vijay in the recent Test series in Sri Lanka prompted the team management to send Cheteshwar Pujara to open the innings and he lapped up the opportunity by scoring a superb hundred in Third Test.

Shastri also made it clear that the five bowler theory adopted in Test by Virat Kohli was not a permanent strategy and team combination will depend on the playing conditions and the rivals.

"No, it (five bowler theory) is not a permanent strategy. You have to respect the conditions. In this game of cricket you cannot go in and say that I am going to go with this team. It will backfire on you if the conditions are totally different," he said.

"So, you might need six batsmen, you might need four and a half bowlers, you might need just a bowler to do the job to give the main bowlers a rest. You have to play according to the conditions and play to the opposition. It is important to study the opposition you are up against and then decide what should be the best combination of your team," he added.

Replying to a query, Shastri said the most successful series for him during his tenure so far was the tour of Australia where, he said, players learnt hard lessons which
have been put into practice by the young Indian side passionate about cricket and craving for consistency.

"For me, the most successful tour was that of Australia. I keep saying this, the result was 2-0 down. Then we had a great World Cup, but lessons learnt in that tour was hard lessons. Those lessons have been put into practice, which I am really heartened by because it's a young team, the players are passionate, they want to learn. They don't want to rest on their laurels and they want to be consistent," he said.

Shastri said he had taken up the Team Director's assignment as a challenge and a responsibility and he wants the team to maintain consistency over the next nine months. "Every assignment for me has been a big one, in the last year. You take it one series at a time, there is no small series in world cricket today, it's just that the teams change. The work ethics, what you put into place to win a game, all that has to be done in the same way as you do with any other team. So, nothing changes.

"I take it as a challenge. It is a responsibility, it is a challenge which I have never backed away from in anything I have done in life. So, this is no exception. It is a brilliant young team. You have seen the performances over the last year, I don't have to say, you can judge in all formats of the game. And the endeavour will be to keep that consistency going over the next eight-nine months till we are in charge," Shastri said.

The Team Director also said that bench strength of the senior side was very good with the players in the India A team doing well.

"It (bench strength) is very good. I am going to have a chat with Rahul Dravid (India A coach)) sometime today to find out because he is in the best position to know who are the guys who can come through the ranks. The fact that the amount of cricket Rahul has played, he would know quickly know who would be the bloke who could bridge the gap and make the grade (to senior India side)," he said.

Asked if it makes a difference that he and his support staff have been assured of their jobs till the end of World Twenty20 in March next year, Shastri said, "Absolutely. Take your job. 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."

Shastri and the assistant coaches -- B Arun (bowling), R Sridhar (fielding) and Sanjay Bangar (batting) -- had their contracts renewed on a series-by-series basis before their contract was extended until the end of World Twenty20.

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