This article is from Wisden India.
By R Kaushik
It didn't take Ravi Shastri long to stamp his character on this young Indian team. From the time he took over as team director ahead of the One-Day International series in England last August, the former India captain has stressed on positivity, aggression and a sense of team. Without stepping on the toes of Duncan Fletcher or undermining the coach's authority, Shastri has got the team to buy into his way of thinking.
Blessed with an astute cricketing mind that can read the game brilliantly, Shastri is also an excellent man-manager and motivator. And while this is still very much Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Fletcher's team, the Shastri touch is unmistakable.
In this chat with Wisden India as India prepare for the match against the United Arab Emirates at the WACA ground on Saturday (February 28), Shastri talks at length on the defending champions' World Cup campaign to date, and what can be expected of the side going forward. Excerpts:
Things didn't look flash for India coming into the World Cup. The team copped a lot of criticism. What has changed since?
Nothing's changed. I think what they desperately needed was a break. That ten-day rest they got after the triangular series was a massive bonus because the kind of cricket they had played in the one month of Test cricket was very, very draining. People don't realise the intensity with which India played. With a little bit of luck, the series could have been 1-1. And it's not often you play four Test matches in a month. And then straightaway, the triangular series after that didn't help.
"We look to execute our skills in the best possible way. And combine as a unit when doing it, not just individual brilliance."
Unfortunately, it was there in the itinerary so you had to go through the motions, which we literally did. But the break was tremendous because it was mental fatigue more than physical fatigue that was creeping in. That's why that break was very timely.
As for the stuff said and written, the beauty is the boys don't read and think about the nonsense. It is for people to say that there is nonsense written, they are not even bothered one bit because they know how well they have played in Australia. It's just a case of being up and ready for the big occasion, and they have started off extremely well.
The draw pitted the team straightaway against the big boys - Pakistan, then South Africa...
We were not worried about anybody. Like I say now, don't look at the opposition. We look to execute our skills in the best possible way. And combine as a unit when doing it, not just individual brilliance. That's exactly what you saw against Pakistan and South Africa, which was most heartening. It was not one guy performing. The bowlers bowled well as a unit, they fielded superbly and even the batting, it was a collective, good team performance.
How much has the stress on been on celebrating each other's success? When Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan made hundreds, the respective non-strikers seemed as thrilled.
We have talked about enjoying each other's success and converting individual brilliance into team play. That makes a massive difference because the best teams in the world are teams that do it collectively - whether you are batting, bowling or fielding. It was great to see. When you share each other's good performances like that and exhibit it in the middle, it is heartening because when you are out there in the middle, there is only one other teammate with you. If he is not going to enjoy your performance with you, then what is the use?
Dhawan's form coming into the World Cup was much like India's. How would you explain his turnaround?
Shikhar was due. It was a matter of time before he hurt somebody because he was playing well - but one edge and he was gone. It was not that he was getting out for 2, 3, 4. He was getting 30s, 40s, and then getting out. It was just a matter of time before he converted one knock into a big one and took it from there. Even against Pakistan, with a little bit of luck, he could have got a hundred there, he was run out. He could have had two hundreds in two games. But he struck it beautifully, he is a dominating player and not for one minute was there a doubt in anybody's mind about his form.
"The momentum that you have got, you have got to try and maintain it, but don't think too far ahead. We have discussed it before, one game at a time."
With four more league matches still to play, how important is to keep the focus?
Very important. The momentum that you have got, you have got to try and maintain it, but don't think too far ahead. We have discussed it before, one game at a time. Go execute your skills, we will take it forward to the next game. It doesn't matter who the opposition is. Our job is to execute our skills to the best of our ability.
Have you been surprised at how well the three fast bowlers have bowled?
A pleasant surprise, and that's why teams should watch out because anyone taking this bowling unit lightly, it is at their own peril. What sometimes upsets you is when other people have three fast bowlers, other teams, and they bowl at 140 and bowl like how India does, they are a great bowling team. But when Indians bowl at 140 and do it like that, nothing. No one mentions it. So it's time they got something back. They should have been given credit for their performances. They have been dishing it out, and doing it collectively. It is not one guy performing. It is being backed, creating pressure, bowling in tandem together, bowling well in tandem. Not just the pacers, I think (R) Ashwin and Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja) have done a fabulous job as well. Seeing the way the ball is coming out of Ash's hand is very promising.
And the fielding...
Sharp. It has been very sharp. And with good arms. All these guys have got rocket arms, which is brilliant. When you have six or seven good fielders out there, then suddenly the other four who might not think of themselves as good fielders are throwing themselves around. It's like a disease, the enthusiasm spreads, which is fabulous.
One of the things we haven't seen is daily practice sessions.
We realised that we have been here long enough where you have got to give yourself enough time to recover as well. Recovery is in many ways a practice session as well, so that you stay fit and healthy. And enthusiastic. The enthusiasm has to be there. When you go out for a practice session, you must go out there to enjoy it - whether it is just fielding or stretching or a game a football which they enjoy, or if it is an intense net session. There has to be enjoyment. That's why you need those breaks, to keep that enthusiasm going.