TELFORD VICE, Mohali
SA will appreciate the fact that Ravi Shastri talks a straighter game than he used to bowl as a left-arm spinner.
Question to Mr Shastri, comrade team director of an Indian team that has no head coach: Will the pitch for Thursday’s first test in Mohali have about as much grass on it as the top of Jacob Zuma’s head has hair and, consequently, turn around corners from ball one?
Because that would suit India.
“I believe that at home you should play to your strengths,” Shastri boomed as he loomed larger than life at a press conference on Tuesday.
“There’s no need to hide behind that issue. It’s been happening over the years – wherever teams have played in their own countries, it’s something you expect. It’s something that has been part of cricket history.
“You don’t expect, when you go to SA or to Australia and you look at their attacks, a pitch that turns on day one.”
Indeed, you don’t.
But what happens when home teams don’t get what they want? We were given an inkling into that scenario when the groundsman at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, Sudhir Naik, complained that Shastri had abused him verbally after SA clinched the one-day series there 11 days ago.
No doubt the pitch, on which SA batted first and totalled 438/4, was not to Shastri’s and India’s liking.
“The incident was one week ago – that’s history,” Shastri growled as that famous moustache of his twitched a touch under those tracer bullet eyes.
“The incident I’ve spoken enough about. I’ve nothing to add – not a word to add – and not a word to subtract from what I said.”
But, whatever conditions present themselves on Thursday in this dry, dusty northern city less than 300 kilometres from India’s border with Pakistan where the approaching winter is keeping the temperatures in the mid-20s and humidity is a rumour, Shastri was bent on selling the series as well as possible.
Even so, South Africans will be chuffed with the compliments he paid their team.
“This will probably be one of the best series we’ve had in the last 10 years; that’s because of the cricket SA have played in the last few years.”
Ah, music to the ears of Saffers everywhere. And the best was yet to come:
“It’s like the West Indies who came in the 80s. When you saw that kind of team you wanted to win a test match against them. It was always a big moment in Indian cricket.”
Oh, comrade team director! What high praise! Thank you, sir!
But hang on a second, Ravi you old skebenga. Your team have lost the Twenty20 and the one-day series, only the fourth time that fate has befallen them at home. And SA could be the first visiting side to leave India with the trophies from all three rubbers packed in their luggage.
Surely that pressure is mounting on your boys?
“I look at it the other way,” Shastri, melting into a baritone with eyes twinkling, said. “I put it right back on SA: India have a great opportunity to upstage them and do something special.”
Gotta love him.