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Legendary Kapil Dev Nikhanj captained India to their maiden World Cup glory in 1983. He still holds the record of being the youngest captain, at 24, to win a World Cup. Now 60, Kapil talks to Qaiser Mohammad Ali on the upcoming World Cup. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
How do you see the team selected for the World Cup?
The game has become so big; everybody had his opinion about selection. I feel the selectors have done their job and I hope that the captain and management can come out and start winning matches.
Could batting be the weak link of the team?
I don’t even like to talk about that. Raising a finger at anybody is easy. The five selectors must have calculated, along with the captain, how to constitute the team. If they think it’s good enough, it’s good enough.
It’s a long tournament and there are only three specialist pacers, if you discount Hardik Pandya.
Why not consider Pandya as a fast bowler?
Okay. Are four pacers enough?
You are playing nine matches in 50 days [30 days, actually]. If by chance someone is injured, you can have replacements. These three fast bowlers and one fast-bowling all-rounder are good enough.
There’s no specialist off-spinner in the team, and most of the teams have many left-handers. Can we do without an off-spinner?
Give the chosen ones a chance [to prove themselves]. If I start saying this and that, everything is going to be negative. I’m a positive man and I think one should be happy with whatever the team we have.
The format of the tournament has changed, with all 10 teams playing all.
I think it’s a good format. It’s good for the bigger teams to get more chances. Otherwise, if you have just three or four matches [in group format] and one or two of them are washed off—in England anything can happen—and lose one to a smaller team, you don’t what can happen to you. In this format, you come to know your worth.
India will play Pakistan also. After Pulwama and Balakot, some people said that India should skip that match, probably without realising the repercussions. The match is on. Will it be more tension-filled?
Everybody should understand that the call of the country is much bigger than an individual or a cricket team. If the country says ‘go and play’, don’t even discuss about that. It’s a tournament and if any player has any problem, he can opt out. But if the team is to play, let’s leave it to the government and the cricket board.
India’s first four games are tough, against South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan. Do you feel starting well will be crucial?
Winning the first couple of matches is always great. You get the rhythm, which is very important of course. But when you have eight-nine matches, I don’t think you should have any problem. You may lose an odd match but you can bounce back.
Does the Indian team have the wherewithal and resources to win the title? Is it equipped to win the World Cup?
Yes, they have. They have three good fast bowlers; three great spinners. And they have an all-rounder in Hardik Pandya, who is fantastic. They’ve a very dynamic captain and a very strong batsman—the best in the world—and then you have a M.S. Dhoni. Besides, you have Rohit and Shikhar and others. But Dhoni and Virat together make a lot of difference to this team.
Dhoni would surely be very crucial.
No, no…everybody. I won’t put pressure on Dhoni or anyone else. Everybody is important. Yes, certain players are key players. But you win a big tournament like this when everybody performs together.
England is hosting a World Cup after 36 years and Lord’s is to again host the final. Do you feel these will be the motivating factors for India?
The advantage with the Indian team is that it is good enough to win all the matches. Once you reach the top four after the league phase, you need a stroke of luck, besides great weather on that day, whether you win the toss or not. Do we have the team to win the World Cup? Yes, we have the team to win it.
Which teams could be the biggest threat to Team India?
I think every team is a threat. In one-day cricket, you can’t take even Bangladesh lightly. We had taken Bangladesh lightly in the 2007 World Cup, and we crashed out of the tournament. So, when you are playing in a World Cup, you can’t even think that some teams are strong and some mild. Every team is in the same pattern. You have to play with the same temperament.
Since you have experienced a World Cup triumph, what would be your general suggestions and advice to Indian team?
I am out of cricket for 20-odd years. I don’t know the mindset of players, how they plan. So, it’s unfair for me to say something. I’d just say: play like a team and if you get a chance to win a match, just go and win it [yourself], and don’t depend on the other people. It’s very important for a team that if you get a chance to win a match just go all out and win it.
Which are your favourite teams?
I think England are very, very high on the list. They have the great advantage of playing at home. Then you have Australia and India. The fourth team [for semi-finals] can be a surprise, between the West Indies, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan. However, for all these four teams, winning all their matches looks tough, on paper, at least.
All three occasions England hosted the World Cup, they felt the pressure and didn’t win. Do you feel again that could happen?
I don’t think they had the team [capable of winning] then; they now have a [good] team. So, today England have a team and they are playing in their backyard which they understand better.
The nature of pitches in England has changed and last year it was very warm there, impacting pitches also. Any idea what types of pitches are going to be this time?
In the last eight-ten years pitches have changed. They don’t put so much grass now, and getting 300 runs/innings is very common in England. But 20 years back 300 was very tough; on odd occasion a team would get that. And the mind-set of batsmen has also changed. The pitches are not the same what they used to be 25-30 years back, when you would put grass, and the weather would play an important role. Yes, weather is always important, but how well you prepare the pitches is also important.