According to India’s head coach Ravi Shastri, the Test team has to “play like the world’s No. 1 Test team” in the two-match series against New Zealand that starts from February 21. Shastri wants the team to collect full points – which is 120 – and “to be in contention to play at Lord’s,” which will host the final of the World Test Championship finals in 2021.
India is currently at the top of the Test leader board with 360 points after they beat West Indies 2-0 in an away Test series, and followed it up with whitewashes of South Africa and Bangladesh 3-0 and 2-0 respectively at home. Winning two Test matches in New Zealand, which begins from February 21 in Wellington, or winning another four matches that will take place in Australia later this year will put India in a good place to play the finals at Lord’s.
The Times of India quoted Shastri as saying, “We need 100 points to be in contention to play at Lord’s. Two overseas wins out of six Tests will keep us in good stead. We play six Tests overseas this year (two in NZ and four in Australia). So, that’s one objective. The other is to play like the world’s No. 1 Test team – because that’s what this team believes in more than anything else. On the Test front, that’s what we’re looking at.”
India whitewashed New Zealand 5-0 before losing 3-0 in the three-match ODI series. Shastri, however, did not take the loss much to heart as he called the ODIs “relatively irrelevant” in a T20 World Cup year. Further, he said that the Tests “matter more right now”.
In the Test series, India will be playing without Rohit Sharma, who has a calf injury. Opening options for the Indian Test series include Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, and Prithvi Shaw. Shastri said,
“Both [Shaw and Gill] are supremely exciting talents. Regardless of who gets into the XI in Wellington, the fact of the matter is they’re here, part of India’s national squad, and from here on they should know that the sky remains the limit.”
When speaking only about Gill, Shastri said,
“He’s phenomenally talented. His approach to batting is very clear and he exhibits a very positive mindset. That’s very exciting for a boy who’s just 20 going on 21.”
In their first innings of the only three-day tour game, Agarwal and Shaw made 1 and 0 runs respectively. Gill, batting at number 4, also scored 0. All three batsmen lost their wicket to Scott Kuggeleijn.
“They’re all from the same school, you know. They love facing the new ball, enjoy a challenge,” Shastri said.
“Rohit is unfortunately out so that puts Shubman and Prithvi in contention to open with Mayank. That competition is necessary and that’s what makes a bunch of 15 look strong and stable.”