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Ravi Shastri in Mumbai 25 February 2014 - 05:20pm IST

‘Pujara will be India’s mainstay in World Cup’

Ravi Shastri feels a closely contested Asia Cup will act as build-up to 2015 event

India lost the last two series but because the conditions have been drastically different from those at home, there are positives to take from the tours. Playing overseas provides a player with the opportunity to learn as he is exposed to foreign conditions and challenges. Assuming the young Indian players have come back stronger from the twin overseas tours, I expect a totally different Team India in this Asia cup.

However, one also has to bear in mind that in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, India will be pitted against two teams that like them, play extremely well in the sub-continent conditions. So I think this will be the start of the build-up to the World Cup in 2015.

While the teams are from the sub-continent and will be playing in condition familiar to them, facing Bangladesh in Bangladesh is a challenge. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are both formidable sides as well. So it will be a tight contest.

All three teams have been playing extremely well. India have a good record against Pakistan and a decent one against Sri Lanka. Pakistan have a good record against Sri Lanka when it comes to one-day cricket. On the other hand, Sri Lanka is the only team that can upset India. It will be a close contest and everyone’s eyes will be on the tournament coming up next – the ICC World T20, 2014. The Asia Cup will be a build-up to that as well.

India’s batting

India need runs on the board and so they will need their top-three batsmen to fire. One of the reasons for not succeeding in South Africa and New Zealand was because the top-order didn’t fire. They need to get back into the kind of form that they showed against Australia in ODIs in India in 2013, where the top-three or four are amongst runs and scored big. So, if anyone gets a start, it is of paramount importance that they convert that into a hundred.

The batsmen went for all-out aggression in South Africa and New Zealand, which caused their downfall. They should take a cue from that performance and, especially against quality attack like Pakistan, must bat with the right mix of caution and aggression. For that, shot selection becomes utmost important.

One needs to know which shots to play when and to what kind of deliveries. At the same time, it is crucial to keep rotating the strike and the score board ticking.

I am pleased to see Cheteshwar Pujara in the ODI squad. Regardless of whatever people say about his fielding etc., I think he has a role to play as a batsman. He will only strengthen the top-order. He could do the job for the team where one has to bat for long periods. By no stretch of imagination is he someone who can just grind the attack. He can be a totally different player in the one-day game. I believe that he is going to be one of our mainstays in the forthcoming World Cup.

Ajinkya Rahane has been impressive. The biggest positive for me was the way he played in South Africa and New Zealand. With a Test hundred under his belt I see him going places because he is a dedicated young player who has worked hard to get his opportunities and he is not about to throw this away.

India’s bowling

India's bowling is their weakest link. The lack of consistency in the bowling attack, whether it is pace or spin, is an area of concern. Attention will have to be given to identify bowlers who are fresh, hungry and who would stay that way twelve months down the line when the World Cup commences.

They need to be consistent. Each bowler’s role needs to be identified and then see how he evolves in it. It may be completely different from his role in a Test match.

Key factors

MS Dhoni’s absence due to injury is a massive blow to the side. There is no other player who can bat at No. 5 and 6 in ODIs like he does. He is one of the best in the game. But with injuries come opportunities for other players, in this case Virat Kohli in a leadership capacity and Dinesh Karthik with the gloves as well as the bat.

Kohli is one of the best young players in the world. The last two tours have only enhanced that reputation. He is someone who relishes captaincy. He likes responsibility and thrives on it. So this will be good exposure for him.

There is nothing like a win to put one back on track with a long season coming up. The result of this tournament is not going to have a direct effect on India’s World Cup performance but at least it will start putting things into perspective because it will be a tough tournament. India will be tested against tough teams in conditions which they all relish.

(As told to Prajakta Pawar)

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