They are possibly the best team of commentators in the World Cup: Viv Richards, Imran Khan, Greg and Ian Chappel, Barry Richards, Ravi Shastri, Richie Benaud. This crack commentary team (with some others putting in guest appearances) surprisingly has the smallest audience. Originally supposed to cover 11 matches live for Doordarshan with highlights everyday, they are now doing highlight reports for North America. Says WorldTel chief Mark Mascarenhas, who is organising the whole thing, The challenge was to get Indian viewers to switch from cable, where they'd seen live telecast of the matches on espn or Star Sports and get them to come to DD for the highlight reports. But with the ongoing dispute between Stracon and Nimbus, Indian viewers seem to have lost out on an opportunity to listen to the stalwarts. Instead, in an exclusive discussion with Outlook, spread over two days, the commentators spoke to Aniruddha Bahal about the Indian cricket team:
First a word about the Indian win against Sri Lanka...
Ravi Shastri: It was a privilege to watch Saurav's and Dravid's innings. It was batsmanship of the highest order. It showed how correct the Indian players are. The ease with which they tore the attack apart was praiseworthy. There was hardly any slogging, they picked their spots.
Barry Richards: I think the Indians have a good batting line-up, as was evident against Sri Lanka. But it's just brilliant individuals. Even Sri Lanka didn't win in '96 because of individual brilliance - they were a team. India will have to come together as a team. Look at South Africa, as a team they hardly fluctuate from their high standards. If you depend on individuals you just can't develop consistency.
Azharuddin's captaincy remains a problem...
Ravi Shastri: India won against Lanka because of individual brilliance, not due to Azhar's captaincy. The pressure of the World Cup is affecting Azhar's batting. He's not the kind of guy to put his own form behind him and lead the team. Psychologically, he needs the weight of runs behind him. I think it would help India immeasurably if he steps down. What is important to India is Azhar the batsman, not the captain. India needs his batting. India might still reach the Super Six but I promise you it will have nothing to do with Azhar's captaincy. Captaincy is what Wasim Akram did against the Australians. Getting himself on and taking wickets and bowling Saqlain towards the end. He is the captain of the Cup.
Viv Richards: I think a captain can only do well if his team is doing well. I'm also not in favour of criticising him when he seems down and out. A captain gets the flak when his team doesn't win. Lara is finding that out too. The media is hungry for his blood.
Greg Chappel: Ajay Jadeja did a very good job at Sharjah, and it may have been worthwhile to get a fresh mind and body. Azhar's a great batsman, and a bit of a conservative captain. But there have been good conservative captains before. Not everybody has a natural flair for captaincy. Anyway, Azhar's the captain here and will do the best he can.
Barry Richards: I'd like to be brutally frank here. I don't think he's up to the mark.
Imran Khan: Azhar is definitely under a lot of pressure. I think he should step down in favour of someone like Jadeja. India needs Azhar to come good as a batsman. He has such a lot of experience. In my days it was such a task to set a field for him.
Whom would you choose to succeed him?
Ravi Shastri: I feel Jadeja should take over immediately.
Viv Richards: Jadeja has to show that he can handle responsibility consistently before he takes over. He must also step up his personal performance.
Greg Chappel: I think Jadeja's the man.
Barry Richards: Jadeja's very enthusiastic and takes advice. He looks keen to do the job, unlike Azhar. That's a possible solution. The players will respond to him.
Imran Khan: I agree that Jadeja has tremendous enthusiasm for the game. His body language is very positive.
Is having Bobby Simpson as a consultant helping the Indian squad?
Ravi Shastri: It's difficult to put a finger on it. I was impressed with India's running between the wickets against South Africa and even the fielding. It shows that given time they can do it well. And then, Simpson does happen to be one of the shrewdest brains in the business.
Viv Richards: There're too many coaches floating around these days. He needs to beef up in all departments. What about the extras India is conceding? I don't see any coaching there.
Imran Khan: The best coaches aren't going to take up the job. Richie Benaud would be a great coach but he's not going to do it.
India seems to lose matches which, perhaps, other teams wouldn't. Do they lack mental strength?
Ravi Shastri: Definitely. Mental strength comes from leadership. When the captain himself is not confident, how do you expect the players to be confident?
Viv Richards: We have seen worse in teams. When you don't do well, much speculation arises. Everyone was praising Azhar when he was doing well. Now he's the villain.
Greg Chappel: Other teams have also lost close matches. It's all part of the make-up of international cricket. India needs to win a few close ones to get this bogey off their back. But it's not a problem that will last forever. Any team is susceptible to pressure.
Barry Richards: Senior players have to pull together for mental toughness. For instance, you need a senior player to take Agarkar through his overs. I think the team does not talk enough about each player's role.
Imran Khan: I remember the way the Pakistani batting used to capitulate from winning situations in the late '70's and early '80's. Mental strength is not a constant. It can be gained with proper leadership.
Can Sachin win India the World Cup on his own?
Ravi Shastri: Well, let's put it this way: he will have to do tremendously well for India to have any chance at all.
Viv Richards: He's special. The sky is the limit for him. But let's not put more pressure on him.
Greg Chappel: If India is to get to the Super Six and beyond, he must play really well. But he needs good support from the likes of Ganguly and Dravid. Azhar also needs to get into some form. I made a prediction on the eve of the Kenya match that he will make a hundred in memory of his father. I knew he would make it a special day.
Barry Richards: He can do anything, anytime, anywhere! That's how high I rate him. But Sachin won't be able to dominate the teams they are to play now as much as he did Kenya.
Do you think India can scrape through? Your predictions for the semis?
Ravi Shastri: If India scrape through the Super Six they are going to be a very dangerous side. Also, Tendulkar is back. He's the ultimate pro and can win against the best.
Viv Richards: South Africa and Pakistan look on course. The other two spots are up for grabs. I think India can make it to the semis if they play responsibly from now on.
Greg Chappel: South Africa and Pakistan should make it. Before the tournament I had Australia on the list. Now, I think the other two slots are open. India or Australia can do it. Even the West Indies with Lara and the few pace bowlers they have can be a threat. India also have it in them, but, like Australia, they've to depend on how the other matches play out.
Barry Richards: South Africa and Pakistan are there. Australia you can never discount. Then there is England.
Imran Khan: After Pakistan I would obviously like India to be there. If they meet, what a match it's going to be! It will cause a few heart attacks. I think if Pakistan sort out their batting, they will win the Cup.