New Delhi: Team director Ravi Shastri on Monday praised spinner Ravichandran Ashwin for his performance in Sri Lanka and called him the best off-spinner in world at the moment.
"Ashwin was amazing in Sri Lanka. That's because he was patient and relaxed. For him to understand his own bowling and what the team needs of him was the need of the hour. He has realized that. We know he has got the brain of an astronaut. He has combined that intelligence with calmness and patience now. That bodes well for us because now the astronaut's mind is helping Team India take flight.
"For me Ashwin is the best off-spinner in the world at the moment. Nathan Lyon is a very good off-spinner but the variety this man can bring to the plate is unreal. The biggest testament to Ashwin's brilliance was the way he bowled to Sangakkara. To stifle a class batsman like Sanga in his crease four times in a row was the mark of a world-class spinner who has realized that he is a world-class spinner," Shastri said.
Promising that India will not back down from their "aggressive brand of cricket", Shastri feels consistency and patience would be key to success as the hosts gear up to face South Africa next month.
"South Africa are the No. 1 team in the world. We have to play consistent cricket for long periods of time to put them under pressure. That will be the endeavour. Our style of play will not change," said Shastri, who was retained as team director after India registered a historic Test series win in Sri Lanka recently.
"If you reflect on our performances in Australia and Sri Lanka, you will see that consistency was the difference between defeat and victory. Sustained brilliance will be the key against the Proteas," he said.
Asked if consistency would mean winning the key moments, he said, "Yes, that's exactly what I am talking about. And that - not letting the opposition off the hook after having them under pressure - demands a lot of patience.
"We were not patient enough both in Australia and during the first Test in Sri Lanka. Once the patience and discipline came, in the next two Tests, we saw the results," he told bcci.Tv
India and South Africa square off for the first time in a four-Test series, in addition to playing five ODIs and three T20s. The tour begins with a T20 International match at Dharamsala on October 2.
Shastri said that fast bowler Ishant Sharma will have to learn how to draw the line while playing aggressive cricket and conceded that the team will miss him in the first Test against the Proteas after he breached ICC Code of Conduct during the Sri Lanka series.
"I know he has copped a lot of flak over the aggression and he will learn where to draw the line. But let me assure you, he has the backing of the entire team. I want him to be aggressive and I will be the first one to push him in that direction. But I will also mark the line.
"We will miss him for the first Test. He is our most experienced fast bowler. He bowled beautifully in Sri Lanka and is in the form of his life. With a little bit of luck, he could have picked 10 more wickets in that series," said the former India all-rounder.
Talking further about Ishant, the team director said that the pacer bowled like "million dollars" in Sri Lanka to play a big part in India's Test series win.
"I think it was a big knock he had to take going home from the World Cup. It was an honest decision on his part that he was not fit enough and at the same time it was a bitter pill to swallow. But with sacrifices like that come the good things. He rested well, trained extremely hard and understood his own technique and where he can improve," he said.
"He bowled like a million dollars in Sri Lanka. And this is not the last of him. We will continue to see him bowl like that in the future, now that he has gained immense understanding of his bowling," he added.
He termed the job of India cricket team director as the most challenging and satisfying.
"It has given me immense job satisfaction. It has been the biggest challenge for me in all the years I have been involved in the game in whatever capacity. My willingness and desire to carry on in this role stems from the fact that I have got a great team with me - a great bunch of players and an amazing support staff," said the former India all-rounder.
Asked about the contribution of coaching staff of Bharat Arun, R Sridhar and Sanjay Bangar, he said their experience of having come through the system has helped to the team success.
"I would say just one thing for all of them. Apart from the expertise, there is experience. They have all come through the system. Someone like Bharat Arun, people would not have known. When he was first brought into the team, people would have asked, 'Who' and 'Why'? Now they will stop on their track and say, 'Why not earlier'?
"The same applies for Sridhar and Sanjay. The reason is that these guys have been through the grind. They have been involved in the system for many years and know all these players from under-19 stage. They connect with the players. The boys can confide in them and trust them. They can to get the best out of the players."