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'It's Not Totally A Batsman's Game'
It was his first day in office after taking charge of the team. Mahendra Singh Dhoni wore an old blazer to the press conference prior to the start of the ICC World Twenty20 tournament. Inevitably, the word 'captain' was missing from the crest on the pocket. Two weeks later, he had his hands wrapped on some gleaming silverware. "Maybe I can retire from cricket now," he joked. Indeed. By the time the tournament ended, with a dream win for India, he had captain written all over him. Excerpts from an interview with G. Rajaraman:
Is this the start of a new chapter in Indian cricket, you as captain and Yuvraj Singh as vice-captain?
As far as this tournament is concerned, it wasn't about captain and vice-captain. Everyone who was given a responsibility went in and performed. There is no batsman who hasn't scored runs in the tournament, no bowler who has let the side down and the overall fielding effort has been very good. It was a team effort. Of course, Yuvraj was brilliant, RP (Singh) was very good while Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh) and Irfan (Pathan) made great comebacks. Of course, some of the players did not get as many opportunities as others. It can be hard when you are on tour and not playing matches, more so since people really follow this format of the game. Still, morale was high, as was confidence. Everything you needed to build a good team, a nice team, was there.
Tell us about our champion team.
I think we are a young but determined side. We have as many as 12 players who can bat and bowl and so there were plenty of options. It's not just about aggression in terms of field placing or bowling but about opportunities created or conceded to the opposition. Good captains are made by their team, not just by men thinking about strategy.
It was important to plan well here and the breaks between games helped us plan our nets in such a way that we would be fresh on the ground. It would have been very easy for us to think that we are on a big stage and drive ourselves to practice harder. But we planned well and were able to give our 100 per cent on the field every time.
Do you feel justified that you backed the bowlers to win the event for you?
From the beginning, I have been saying that it is not totally a batsman's game. The new ball can do a few things...as our lads showed consistently. Also, batsmen don't have the time to settle down so the bowlers are always in with a chance. I think the key was to bowl in the right areas, be able to read the batsman's mind. If you can get inside the mind of the batsman, you have a good chance of devising a strategy....
Give us an example.
Well, Pakistan didn't have wickets in hand when Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammed Asif were at the crease. Pressure, and how you handle it, is an important aspect in big games. I always knew as the game got into the final stages, our chances would get better. Harbhajan hadn't bowled his last over well (18th). So I thought if I got a medium pacer in, Misbah would find it a bit difficult to hit him. Joginder had had a decent spell in the match and so I decided to go with him. I told him, 'Whatever the outcome, go and look to bowl six good balls.' Misbah was not about to take a single and let Asif take strike. Nor was he going to risk a two. It's this pressure that I am talking about.
Did you enjoy leading the team?
I feel enjoying the game is more important. The lads were doing just that. They had confidence in one another and backed themselves. If I get a 50 I'll enjoy it but if my 50 brings smiles to other faces in the dressing room, that's what the team needs. On the captaincy, I think the way the boys responded to me throughout the tournament was really great. I never had much trouble. I did not have to make decisions that would have a big impact on the game. In a way, it all went easy.
Have you been thinking about leading the ODI team?
I will let this victory sink in and use the gap of 3-4 days to think about the series against Australia. It feels good that I have been given the responsibility.
Can the younger guys now take over from our '90s heroes?
I think it'll be more open. If young guys have the talent and can perform, they should be able to make their way into the international side. That is the criterion, you have to perform to get there and keep performing to stay. If you have the talent, I am sure no one can stop you.
How do you compare the '83 Cup win to the T20 win here?
I was two years old in '83. I have no idea how big cricket was at that point of time. I have always said that I like to live in the present. I don't believe in comparisons. I think '83 was special in Indian cricket and I believe this will be too.