On the field, the nice guys finish last. Sourav Ganguly, India’s most successful captain, knew this instinctively, and in his stint as the head of this same Indian crew, he did much to instil the faith that the battle is won first in the head. ‘Think like winners, and you probably will,’ he might have said.
Q This series is reminiscent of the 2001 Test series, isn’t it? Waugh’s Aussies had 15 straight Test wins, Ponting’s men have thrashed England 6-1 in the one-day series and won the Champions Trophy. What do you think will happen?
A It’ll be a keenly fought series. India at home is a completely different proposition. In recent times, we have started winning overseas as well, the few recent disappointments notwithstanding. At home, we can really take the fight to the Australians. These are the top two one-day sides. Australia has a fantastic attack: Lee, Johnson, Siddle and Watson are all bowling at near 150 kmph, and Hauritz too will be much better here than he was in England.
Q India look different with Sehwag and Yuvraj back?
A They do. Sehwag and Yuvraj are both coming off injuries. Sehwag was in good touch in the Champions League and much will depend on how quickly he’s able to get into the groove. He is a proven match winner in both forms of cricket, but Yuvraj is most dangerous in one-dayers because of the clip at which he scores. When I met Yuvraj in Delhi last week, he still had a plaster on his hand; much will depend on him getting fit in time for the series.
Q Should we play Yuvraj even if he isn’t 100 per cent?
A Yuvraj is the most important player in the middle order and the selectors will have to keep that in mind. Yuvi must remember that the Australians have a really good attack and they’ll keep coming at him, knowing fully well that he’s coming back after an injury layoff. It won’t be easy.
Q Dhoni, perhaps for the first time in his tenure as captain, is under pressure after defeats in the T20 World Cup and the Champions Trophy.
A I like the way Dhoni has handled captaincy. He’s everywhere. He enjoys life as he should at his age. There’ll be pressure on him alright, but I don’t think it will affect him much. I only hope he bats up the order.
Q Why do you say that?
A He’s wasted at No. 6. I’ve told him on numerous occasions that he should bat up the order, maybe at 3, 4 or 5; at 6, he is wasted. Sometimes he’ll knick the ball, all batsmen do, but on his day, he’ll win you the game.
Q He’s changed his batting style, hasn’t he?
A The Dhoni we know can hit the ball out of the park; in one-day cricket, that’s the Dhoni I want to see. He has changed his style to suit the No. 6 position he bats at these days, and that is why I want him to bat up the order.
Q When you play a team like Australia, especially when you’re coming out of a bad patch, what do you do as a captain to get the best out of your boys?
A Dhoni knows he has the ammunition to beat Australia, which he lacked in the Champions Trophy. In India, Harbhajan and Amit Mishra will be different bowlers. Yuvraj, if he is able to bowl, will also be a factor. In terms of resources, India will be upto it and that will make Dhoni’s task easier.
Q Why do our fast bowlers lose pace and consistency after a year in international cricket? Ishant Sharma is the latest casualty.
A They’re all young and they bowl with venom when they come into international cricket. The problem arises when they return from a long series. It’s imperative that bowlers like Ishant have personal trainers—they can afford the best. They train unsupervised, not knowing what their body needs. Munaf, RP, Sreesanth, Ishant must all do this. If Ishant wants to play for India for another decade, and he has the potential, he must do this immediately.
Q This is a long-term solution. What about the more immediate concern—how does he bowl to a Ricky Ponting, who will inevitably want to come at him hard?
A Ishant will bowl well to Ponting in India. Ponting’s record in India is poor in comparison with his record in Australia or South Africa.
Q There’s much talk about the seniors being eased out and about vision 2011. Yet Indian fielding hasn’t improved much. What’s the problem?
A I just don’t approve of this senior-junior divide. See Ponting: he’s scoring hundreds at will, and is 34. Hayden smashed everything in sight in the last IPL. Gilchrist too. It is performance that wins you cricket matches, and that should be the sole yardstick. Also, how do you define senior or junior? Yuvraj is over 230 one-day matches old. Sehwag and Harbhajan have close to 200. Are they juniors? In this age of science and personal trainers, 34-35 isn’t the age to retire.
Q The mindgames have begun. Brett Lee talks of a 7-0 whitewash, Ian Chappell has placed Ponting ahead of Sachin. Do you think these tactics still work?
A The Indians are a confident lot and these tactics won’t bother them. Also, the Australians know that in the last decade or so, India has fought them hard. We beat them in the CB series in 2008, beat them in the Test series at home, and the Test series in Australia in 2007-08 was very closely fought. India is the only side that has matched Australia over the last decade and the Aussies know this.
Q Harbhajan continues to speak of you all the time. Will he be India’s trump card?
A Harbhajan is a big-match player. He has the confidence and knows he’s one of the best off-spinners in the world. He will surely do well in a big series like this. In the final of the tri-series in Sri Lanka last month, he picked up five. Yes, he had a bad Champions Trophy, but any player can have two bad days. He will surely play a major role in the coming series.
Q What about Zaheer, will India miss him?
A Surely. At the same time, it’s an opportunity for fast bowlers like Munaf, Ishant and Sudeep Tyagi. I’m a little surprised to see Sreesanth out. I don’t know if it’s a discipline issue, but all these bowlers should look at the series as an opportunity.
Q Who’s your money on?