India head coach Rahul Dravid said the management was clear about the team combinations for the first Test against South Africa starting on Sunday but said he’d rather keep the cards close to his chest.

The former India captain, speaking on Saturday ahead of the start of the first Test, spoke about the importance of preparing well, Virat Kohli’s love for Test cricket and more. He also refused to comment on the split captaincy situation, saying it was not the time or place to discuss that.

Some excerpts from the interaction:

On conversations with Ajinkya Rahane: All discussions been very positive, he’s training really well this week... the conversations are no different to actually with most of the players. He seems to be in a really good space.

On the way forward for this team: Hopefully we keep improving as a Test team, Virat’s played a huge role in that. As a player and leader, he’s been fantastic. He’s one of those who really loves Test cricket, hopefully he has a great series. That will benefit the team.

On not having warmup games: That’s just the way things are at the moment. Kind of schedules we are working with, the Covid situation and bubbles... not always easy to get what you want. We have really worked hard with center-wicket prep etc.

On discussions with players: Picking or dropping is never easy; all 18 players are of good quality. We have to make calls but won’t be scared to make tough ones or won’t be carried away as well. There’s been really healthy discussions in the group. I think the guys have been very good about it and I think most players are professionals. I mean, obviously, sometimes you need to have difficult conversations with players and by difficult you know what I mean, telling any player that he is not playing, it’s hard as everyone wants to play and be part of playing eleven.

On whether it is tough to have such conversations with senior players: They understand situations and not the first time, they had been in situations like this and some of them are in senior positions in their state teams and they are part of decision making groups where they leave out people. “And some of them might be in leadership positions and some of them are part of senior leadership groups which make decisions like this, so they understand and as long as they know the reason and we can communicate about it. Disappointment, at times, is a good thing as it keeps the fire in a player alive, said India’s second highest run-getter in Test cricket. But if a tough call is taken, a player needs to take that in the right spirit. I don’t want everyone to not be disappointed, as that’s one of the reasons that makes people succeed at this level. You want to be playing, you want to be competing, you don’t want to be sitting out. “But how you take that as you sit out and how you respond to that and that’s really a test of your attitude. So far I have had no complaints and everyone has been fantastic about it.

On what his inputs were regarding split captaincy: To be honest that’s the role of the selectors and I am not going to get into conversations that I might or might not have had. It’s not the place and the time to be doing that and discussing that. And what internal conversations I have had is certainly not going to come out in the media and I am not going to start telling people what conversations I have had.

On whether South Africa’s bowling attack is a bit “casual” and India’s stronger: Don’t think by any stretch of imagination [that South Africa attack is casual] but I will agree with you that our attack is certainly more experienced than South Africa attack at this point in time, with the number of Test matches played. And it might not have been the case in the past, but they have got quality and some very good bowlers (Duanne Oliver) in home conditions and got some proven performers (Rabada) as well. We will certainly not take them either casually or lightly and we have contest in our hands and we know we need to put up kind of score that helps our bowlers take 20 wickets, there will be period in Test series where we will have to fight really hard.

On the importance of the first Test: Starting well is very important but it’s not be-all-end-all, it’s a three-match series. I have been on both sides of it. Not make or break, but starting well puts the pressure on the home team. It would be the same for teams visiting India.

Whether Rishabh Pant or Wriddhiman Saha will feature in the first Test: In terms of the XI, we are very clear in our group what the team’s going to be leading into the Test. But I’d just like to keep it that way. From a batter’s perspective, I’d certainly like to want to know what the opposition attack is like beforehand. So while we are clear, we don’t see the need to inform the opposition what our exact XI is going to be. We will see in the morning at the toss.

On dealing with selection: Picking or dropping is never easy... all 18 players are of good quality. We have to make calls but won’t be scared to make tough ones or won’t be carried away as well. There’s been really healthy discussions in the group.

On Cheteshwar Pujara’s role and conversations with him regarding form: I think one of the things that we have talked to the group about. These kind of series are won by good team performances, everyone needs to play their part. You can’t just rely on a Kohli or a Pujara, if you want to be successful we need contributions from all of the top seven and even the lower order, we know the value of their contributions in games that can be lower-scoring than other parts of the world. Puji’s an important part of the lineup as is anyone else, not focussed on one name. Very rare that in series like these that one person is able to score in every single game and dominate. I’d love that to happen from our side, but we need contributions from everyone. Not focussed on individuals or the form they are in, all of them have contributed to big wins overseas in the past. Hopefully all that comes together over the next two-three weeks.

Watch full video of Dravid’s press conference here.

(With PTI inputs)