INDIA'S plan must be to reach the semifinals. In '83, they did this comfortably. Who can ever forget Kapil Dev's assault on the Zimbabwe bowling after half the team was out for zip? His 175 that day ranks high in the annals of World Cup cricket. The key was his ability to inspire, an attribute the great allrounder never lacked.
But no team can rely just on inspiration; there has to be a plan. In the '83 final, India were outsiders and when the Windies dismissed them for 183 it looked all over. This is where the plan took over. Sandhu bowled Greenidge with an offcutter that broke back up the slope and then Richards was caught in the outfield. The plan was simple: get Greenidge and Richards and the rest will fold. So they did, but these days the entire scenario is more complex.
What are the strengths, and correspondingly the weaknesses, of the current Indian team? In my view, the Indians are long on batting but very short on bowling. I cannot see them curtailing a rampant West Indian team, or any other strong batting side, in the way they did at Lord's in '83. The bowlers are limited, for only Srinath and Kumble are true and permanent internationals.
Prasad on his day can be accurate and I have seen Agarkar bowl intelligently. The first element of the plan must be to see these four bowlers performing at their dangerous best. This is the strength aspect of India: Srinath and Agarkar attacking, and Prasad and Kumble containing.
All very well, but who will be the fifth and sixth bowlers? These days you need seven to be really comfortable. Sachin can weigh in with a few overs of his teasing little swingers and Ganguly has occasionally helped out. What is needed is a true allrounder. Robin Singh is a powerful hitter but he cannot contain with his rather average medium pacers. The search must go on for a No. 6 batsman who can give his captain 10 tight overs in the middle of the innings. A Chris Harris type, if you like. Or replace Mongia behind the stumps with a stroke player who can also keep wickets.
Two allrounders of this character are needed. Khurasia has done some useful things to date and as a left-hand bat and left-arm spinner he may develop into just the player needed. Kanitkar is another allrounder who may produce the goods. Chopra had limited opportunities on the New Zealand tour but he too indicated some potential.
India's historical strength is in spin bowling. I remember as a boy watching India field four spinners at Eden Park—Bedi, Venkat, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar—and winning handsomely. Joshi impressed me in Bangladesh for he can turn the ball and give his captain more bowling options. For some reason he scarcely played on tour here.
The other major area is in fielding. There seems to be a lackadaisical attitude towards training. The motions may be performed but without apparent purpose. Take the slips cordon that supported Sir Richard Hadlee through much of his career. The two main fielders were Jeff Crowe and Jeremy Coney and before a day's play they would have 100 slip catches each at practice. It was no accident they held more than 100 slip catches in Test cricket between them. Jeff will tell you that the key to slip fielding is that you take every practice catch as seriously as if you are in a match. OK, more than one slip is rare in one-day cricket but the principle is the same.Practice the catches and they will stick in matches.
The other area is in throwing. The best sides practice throws constantly, so a short single becomes dangerous against them. The only fielder who looks capable of this is Jadeja and even he suffers some handling lapses. He has the brilliance but no consistency. Double his practice regime so he depends more on conditioning than on flair.
Finally, the batting. India has great talent but must not depend entirely on it. Try to set attainable targets with the ball, and the batsmen will cruise through. Dravid is one of the most disciplined players I have seen come out of India but for some reason he is a pariah in his own country. Support him and he will perform. For the rest, what can I say? Most teams would welcome a lineup that gives them Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Azharuddin and Jadeja to say nothing of Laxman and Kambli. I rest my case.