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Scarred, But Not Out

The man with the most difficult job takes time out to give unique perspective on the road ahead. He will cover the World Cup exclusively for Outlook.

Scarred, But Not Out
Pradeep Mandhani
Scarred, But Not Out
It's warm out here in South Africa, somewhat like the Indian summer. We are here two weeks before our first World Cup match. The idea is to get used to the country and prepare ourselves for the task ahead. The 12 days we will spend in Durban, I believe, will be the key. The target we have is to first reach the Super Six—and then go ahead from there.

We are going to perform without any pressure of expectations. I believe we have the potential to be the best in the world and we have to realise our true potential in this World Cup. After New Zealand, all of us in the team were given fitness charts. These charts listed out about two hours of daily excercises. Apart from the physical aspect, we are also taking help from a psychologist here, Sandy Gordon. We had first met during the NatWest series. It was a brief meeting then. But in South Africa he will be more involved. It will be interesting to see how he goes about his job. After the New Zealand tour, obviously spirits were low but we have learnt to put such things behind us.

New Zealand was one of those tours. It's hard to explain. We failed to gain momentum. There was a fatigue element too. We had been on the road for so long. Remember, we are one of the most travelled sides. For months, we were winning. When we were winning, people said this is the team that's going to lift the World Cup. I never really believed that. When we started failing in New Zealand, people started saying that no way was this team winning the Cup. Again, I refuse to be believe this. What matters to me are the next six weeks. In cricket, there is nothing called 'THE PAST'. It all depends on how we are going to perform NOW. It's too early to say anything about whether the conditions will suit us, or whether the pitches are going to be batsmen-friendly. It's also early to say anything about the team composition. But I feel, in all probability, Sachin will go down the order. He is a great player. He can bat anywhere. People will point out that Sachin and I have the best opening partnership in one-day cricket. Most of his best knocks have come when he has gone in as opener but he has had some great scores even at No. 4. We look at Sachin as someone who is going to win matches for us and he is someone who will bat at a slot which is best for the team. Rahul Dravid, as things stand, will be our number one choice as keeper throughout the World Cup. He lends that all-important balance to the team.

I will be opening with Sehwag. I have struggled in New Zealand. But I am going to approach my game with confidence because I know I have scored a lot of runs in South Africa. Other batsmen too suffered in New Zealand. We have to strike form early. I believe spinners will play a very important role in the series. They didn't have much work to do in New Zealand because the pitches were damp and seaming. Their 20 overs will hold the key to our success. Even South Africa has taken two spinners in their team. The season is ending here and the wickets, since they have been used so much, are probably settling down. The South Africans are expecting the wickets to start gripping a bit now. That's a good sign.

This is a big tournament for the hosts. They are keen to prove their credibility as a good sporting nation on this big stage. When we landed in Durban, I was amazed at how well they have organised everything. From the pick-up from the airport to the hotel to the training session, the organisers have done an outstanding job. So there are not too many things that worry me right now. There is nothing in this team today that worries me. It's a very good team. All we have to do is rise to our true potential.

I feel I have matured as captain. I have been leading this side for about three years now. And these have been successful years too. I have made mistakes in the past and learnt from them. Mistakes through odd bowling changes and field placements. No captain in the world, for that matter, is perfect. I am looking forward to playing some warm matches. And the World Cup.
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