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Buoyant India aim for history on South Africa tour
December 28, 2017
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Mumbai: India will define their place in cricket history over the next 18 months with tours of South Africa, Australia and England putting them to the test, the team’s coach said on Wednesday.

The world’s number one ranked Test side have become invincible at home since losing a one-day and T20 series to South Africa in 2015.

In a landmark tour of South Africa next month they are looking for a record 10th straight Test series win. They are currently level with Australia on nine straight series wins.

India play three Tests, six one day internationals and three T20 games in South Africa. The first Test starts in Cape Town on Jan.5.

Test matches in South Africa have always been tough for India who have never won a Test series there.

Ready for Challenge

Shastri and captain Virat Kohli said the side are ready for the challenge, which will be followed by tours of England and Australia and then the World Cup.

Shastri stressed the importance of building the same squad around Kohli since the last tour of South Africa in 2013.

“That experience will stand them in good stead, that’s for sure, because the conditions will be testing,” he said.

“This one and a half years will define this Indian cricket team, and the whole team is aware of that.

“All I can say is that this will be a better cricket team after those 18 months.”

“We know how tough this tour of South Africa is. That’s the beauty about their profession -- wanting challenges and embracing it and that’s what we are looking for,” Shastri said at the pre-departure media conference.

“We toured Australia in 2014 and we did a pretty good job. We have done well in England. In 2015, we toured Sri Lanka and it had great tracks on which the ball seamed and swung. So preparation has been good.”

Shastri said that the players are playing together for the last few years and that will help them flourish in South Africa.

“These boys have been on the road together for the last 4-5 years -- the same team. The nucleus has been the same so that should help a long way,” the former all-rounder added.

Kohli said the team is stronger than the last tour to South Africa when the Proteas won the two-match Test series 1-0.

“The bowling has come a long way, the batting has come a long way, all the guys are much more experienced now, but the hunger remains the same. We still want to go back and try to do what we couldn’t do the last time.”

No wedding hangover

The captain and star batsmen said India have been “relentless” in their performances against Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh and England over the past year.

“We don’t care if we draw or are one game up or one game down, our intensity remains the same and that is because of the fitness levels going up.”

Kohli also insisted that his wedding to Bollywood star Anushka Sharma this month had not diverted him from the mission ahead and that he is “mentally prepared”.

“Switching back to cricket is not difficult at all because it’s in my blood like it is for every other team member and the management.”

He added that he had not been inactive during the break.

“Obviously I have been training to get back to playing in South Africa,” he said, stressing his commitment to push the team to be their best.

India’s players have also taken “beautifully” to changes he has introduced with Shastri to increase discipline, Kohli said.

Many experts said that this is the toughest tour of India due to the playing conditions. To which Kohli replied: “ Cricket is played with bat and ball. Conditions don’t matter. I have no doubt in the ability of the team. We are on the right track.”

In South Africa, the batsmen will face extra bounce and pace from the surface. The weather conditions there are also different as compared to the sub-continent.

“You need to play cricket for a long period of time to win abroad. The hunger this time is the same. We want to do what we couldn’t the last time around,” he added.

Right time for Bumrah

Shastri said the South Africa tour is the perfect time for pacer Jasprit Bumrah to be included in the squad after having already proved his mettle in limited overs.

The former all-rounder also tagged Bumrah as one of the best fast bowler in the world in limited overs format of the game.

The 24-year-old right-armer Bumrah who has been effective in the Twenty20 International (T20I) and One-Day International (ODI) for India — picking 40 and 56 wickets, respectively — was included in the Test squad for the first time.


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