Kirsten: We are No 1 team on merit

Coach defends his bowling attack, says India use criticism from the likes of Chappell as a motivational tool in their team meetings.

Gary Kirsten, the coach of the India team, has launched a staunch defence of his team's credentials as the No 1 Test side in the world, stating that they have the bowlers to complement their vaunted batting line-up. India usurped Australia at the top of the Test rankings with a 2-0 home win over Sri Lanka in December and have cemented their position by whitewashing Bangladesh and drawing 1-1 with South Africa last month.

Pundits, however, have been sceptical of their position, believing instead that Australia or South Africa are still the top two teams in the longer form of the game. Ian Chappell, the former Australia captain and brother of the former India coach, Greg, said that India's attack may prevent them from winning "consistently around the world". Speaking at a function at the India Club in Dubai yesterday, Kirsten said that doubts over the ability of MS Dhoni's men would only act as fuel to perform better. "We use that [criticism] as a motivation," said the former South Africa opener. "We bring it up in our team meeting. So far it has been motivating the players really well to prove everyone wrong.

"Let's make no mistake - we've become the No 1 Test team in the world because we are able to get 20 wickets. Zaheer Khan has been crucial in that and Ishant Sharma's has had good runs at time. Harbhajan Singh has come good when we have needed him. Amit Mishra has bowled really well. "So we know we probably have the world's best seven line-up and we know that we have got fast bowlers who can take wickets when we need to. We've got great spinners as well. So I think we have got a well-balanced Test team."

Kirsten took over the reins of the India team in 2008, following a tumultuous period under Greg Chappell, who had public spats with, among others, Sourav Ganguly. That created a division in the team and, as a result, India failed to progress beyond the group stages at the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, forcing Chappell to step down. Kirsten was initially reluctant to accept the position, believing he did not have the complete support from the players.

But, looking back, he is now convinced he made the right choice and has taken huge satisfaction in steering the team to No 1 position in Test cricket and No 2 in the one-day standings. "I have grown to really enjoy the Indian players," he said. "We have become close friends. We also understand that I am the head coach and there's a boundary there, as with the captain. "But we are creating an environment where people are happy and enjoying themselves, and when they are doing that, they can go out and perform.

"I take a lot of pride in the way the team have been performing," he said. "We work hard in the background. "I think it is very important to know it is the background. We are not out there in the spotlight. "But we certainly take a lot of pride in the effort that we put in. We work really hard. "We make sure that we are preparing in a way that gives the players their best chance of success. We put in a lot of time in terms of our thinking and preparation.

"We allow people to express themselves. With that, we play to a structure, a system, and we try to do that on a daily basis. That's what it is really about."