India in Sri Lanka 2017 July 19, 2017

Shastri wants focus back on players after recent episodes

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'Arun knows these boys better than I do' - Shastri

After the protracted saga preceding his own appointment as the new India coach, Ravi Shastri is eager for the focus to shift to his players and their cricket. Speaking ahead of India's departure for Sri Lanka on Wednesday, Shastri provided a peek into the kind of coach he might be, placing the credit for a team's success squarely on its players, and saying that coaches like him and Anil Kumble will "come and go".

"I have matured immensely in the last two weeks [during the coach-appointment process]," Shastri said. "Mine will be a refresh button that will be pushed. I carry on from where I left. I don't come with any baggage.

"The team has done exceedingly well over three years and they are the people who deserve the credit more than anybody else. These Ravi Shastris, Anil Kumbles will come and go. The fabric of Indian cricket will remain and the credit should go to everyone who has participated in this Indian team over the last three years. If they are No. 1 today [in Tests], it is their efforts they have put in over that three-year period and they deserve the credit. People like us will come and go".

India enjoyed considerable success under both Shastri as team director and Kumble as coach. During Kumble's one-year reign, India won series in West Indies, and at home against New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia, losing only one of 17 Test matches along the way. Under Shastri, whose earlier tenure as team director lasted almost two years, India made it to semi-finals of successive global events - the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 World T20, and also won their first limited-overs bilateral series in Australia, whitewashing the hosts 3-0 in T20Is.

In his second coming, Shastri will work with his core team - Sanjay Bangar (assistant coach), Bharat Arun (bowling coach) and R Sridhar (fielding coach) - from his previous stint. Shastri said his job was to make the player focus on his game "without a care in the world for anything outside".

"When you play the game, you want your mind clear," he said. "You want to be able to focus inwards without a care in the world for anything outside. That happens with good communication with the support staff. My job is to do exactly that with every player - to put him in a frame of mind where he is thinking only about his role and he is thinking about the team he is playing for and, of course, the opposition which we always respect. And that's his job, period."

Captain Virat Kohli felt working with a coaching staff the team was familiar with meant everybody knew what to expect from one another. "We have worked together for three years - 2014, 2015 and 2016 - so that amount of understanding is bound to be there," he said. "Since we have worked together in the past, we know what's expected and what's going to be on the plate and what's worked for us in the past.

"I think understanding and communication is something that works in every walk of life. The changing-room environment is nothing different. You need to have all those aspects for any relationship to work in life. It's not just confined to cricket. 

"We follow the same rules of life that are followed everywhere else. I don't see anything different that can be elaborated upon this. Everyone has gone through experience of relationships somewhere or the other in their lives. The same rules apply here".

Asked if there was extra pressure to perform since he now had a familiar coaching staff, Kohli replied in the negative and said he shut out external factors. "I don't think there is any added pressure because what has to happen will happen, I believe in that, regardless of what happens around on the outside world," he said. "As a team, we aspire to achieve what we want to achieve. Every one of us has faced hardships in the past. Criticism and being criticised is nothing new, so we understand that aspect of playing sport as well.

"I only have the bat in hand and my job is to go out there on the field and control what's being done on the field. And, that's something that I have focused on in the past couple of months, two months and I continue to do so. [A] lot of speculation and lot of things fly around and those things are not in my control. As I said, my job is to go out there on the field and try to bring the best out of this team along with the management and try to perform to the best of my abilities which I believe in.

"I only started off as a player and I wanted to do the best for the team. And, I continue to take up this responsibility and will continue to do so in the future years, till the team I am the captain or I am kept at this position. That's what I see of it. I mean you only have to look at the series you are going to play ahead of you. If you focus only on these external factors, it's very similar to you going out to bat and thinking what if I get out. It can happen in any scenario, so you just need to take care of your mindset and move forward."

Ahead of the Sri Lanka tour, where India will play three Tests, five ODIs and a T20I, Kohli looked back on the 2015 series as a "landmark" tour in setting the template for India's performances overseas. Particularly heartening to him was the manner in which India came back from 1-0 down to win the Test series 2-1. It was Kohli's second Test series as a full-time captain after India had drawn the only Test in Bangladesh under him in June 2015.

"If you look at the average age of that team a couple of years back - I mean obviously the players have matured from then on and it's been 24 months, but that tour for us was a sort of start of the belief system that we can win away from home and we do have the side required to win away from home," he said. "And, we do have the culture that's been created in the team to win whatever Test matches or Test series that we play.

"So, the mindset immediately was to try and win series and losing the first Test was a shock to us. The way we bounced back was only because of the team culture that was created at that stage where our players were the less experienced if you compared us and Sri Lanka. The comparison of number of Tests was not even close. But, we showed more belief in our abilities and that we could win from any situation and that really turned our mindset around. From then on, you can see the results that we have had so far.  We have away series coming up, so the same mindset would apply now what we started back in 2015".

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun

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