Ahead of the highly-anticipated five-match Test series between India and England starting in Birmingham on Wednesday, coach Ravi Shastri has reiterated a familiar message: his team is driven by the desire to do well in the longest format overseas, at a time when teams don’t travel well.

“We showed some very good signs in South Africa as far as the red ball is concerned. We want to carry that forward. The challenge for us is to be consistent in the red-ball format overseas,” Shastri told ESPNCricinfo. “We believe we have the potential to be one of the best travelling teams. At the moment, there is no side in the world that travels properly. You can see what is happening to South Africa in Sri Lanka. We know our scorelines in England before this tour: 4-0 [2011], 3-1 [2014]. We want to do much better than that.”

Shastri referred to the defeats in South Africa as close affairs, where India lost a few sessions and ended up losing the series before winning on a spicy wicket in Johannesburg. And he specifically called for improvement from his side’s batsmen this time around.

“What I would like to see is whether we have learned from South Africa. A start of 25 or 30 should be converted into a big partnership,” Shastri said.

And to do that, the openers – whoever India decide to go with – have a massive job on their hands. Shikhar Dhawan did not really set the pulses racing during the warm-up match, getting out for a pair. Shastri said KL Rahul is the third opener in the side and can be used anywhere in the batting order, adding his team could pull off a surprise or two. Either way, a good start in English conditions becomes crucial for the Indian middle order, led by Virat Kohli, to help score the big runs.

“That is a must anywhere you go overseas, especially England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The first 20-25 overs are extremely crucial,” Shastri said. “If you can come through that period [unscathed] then you get a set a good platform. Understanding your role, understanding what the team needs in those 20 overs, the discipline needed to see off those 20 overs and make sure you lose as few wickets as possible. Then you set up the game because we have enough ammunition in the middle order and lower order to take the game forward.”

Part of the top-order trouble for India is also the dodgy form of Cheteshwar Pujara, who struggled for Yorkshire during the County Championship, before disappointing in the match against Essex as well. But the team management seems to be backing him to come good, with Shastri saying he’s just one good score away from finding form and that his strike rate is not a problem.

“Pujara is an anchor. He has been one of the pillars of this batting line-up for a long time. You know what he does - he loves batting,” Shastri said. “We just want him to do it. Unfortunately, in South Africa he was run out a couple of times [in the same Test in Centurion]. That is something we don’t want. We don’t want him to be an Usain Bolt, we want to him to be Pujara. Stay there at the crease. The last thing you want to do is give your wicket away to a run-out.”

The other headache facing Kohli and Shastri is in deciding the bowling lineup, with conditions in England expected to be dry through the summer if the rain situation doesn’t improve. The spinners could play a significant role. But the question is: who are the first and second choices? Will Kuldeep Yadav, who often troubled the English batsmen during the limited-overs leg of the tour, get picked as the lone spinner? Shastri, without revealing the team’s choices, bigged up R Ashwin’s credentials as a world-class spinner but said the options are open.

“[Kuldeep] could be picked at any stage. There is [Ravindra] Jadeja. There is Ashwin. Depending on the surface, we will have to decide whether to go for one or two spinners. That will be our headache,” Shastri said. “But yes, Kuldeep has arrived. He has already played Test cricket. He had done decently in the ODIs. Kuldeep is also hungry. He is a tough little nut. And with more exposure he will only get better.”

You can read the full interview here.