The Indian team for the 2011 World Cup is one of the most well-balanced units comprising maximum number of match-winners, according to 1983 World Cup winning team member Syed Kirmani, who feels it is the best chance for the Men In Blue to bag the coveted title.
"All the players from top to bottom are match-winners. Anyone from the group is capable of winning the match for the country. Starting from captain (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni to iconic batsman (Sachin) Tendulkar to devastating (Virender) Sehwag to (Gautam) Gambhir, Yuvraj (Singh), Suresh Raina or Yusuf Pathan ... It could be just anyone.
We have an extremely well-balanced team and the best part is everyone seems to be in form," Kirmani told PTI.
Asked if a second wicket-keeper could have been a good option in case of an injury to regular Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the former stumper said it was not at all a worrying factor.
"We are playing in the sub-continent and in our own environment so it would not be too difficult to bring in a replacement wicket-keeper immediately in case of a casualty. So, probably taking this fact into consideration, the selection committee did not go in for a second wicket-keeper," he said.
Stating that the current Indian squad is one of the favourites to lift the Cup, the 61-year-old said he has been hoping and praying for the last 28 years for the country to bring back the glory.
"We have a very good chance this time as our side is a very competent one. They are equally competent, if not more, than some of the other teams. We have been hoping and praying for the last 28 years for India to lift the Cup again and it seems that this team has it in them to fulfil the wish," said the former India Test cricketer.
Kirmani admitted that the four-time World champions Australia will be a weaker side compared to India, South Africa and England in the upcoming mega-event but cautioned that the Kangaroos can never be taken for granted.
"You never know, Australia can come back any time. You can never count them out. Obviously, the experienced players, who won the Cup thrice for the country are not there anymore but Aussies are in a process of re-establishing themselves.
The youngsters will certainly take some time to reach that level. So, as a team they definitely look a little weaker at the moment as compared to some of the stronger sides like India, South Africa, England," he opined.
"But again if you look at the ongoing ODI series between England and Australia, the latter are doing well and the English, who thought it would be a cake-walk for them after their 3-1 Ashes victory, are finding it tough," added Kirmani.
Kirmani, who played 88 Tests, predicted that India, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka would make it to the semi-finals of the mega-event, starting February 19 in Dhaka but warned that there could be a few surprises as well.
"The New Zealanders, Pakistanis and Australians could never be underestimated. Just like Australia, Pakistan also have some talented young players who can spring up surprises," Kirmani said.
Asked to compare the current Indian side with that of the 1983 World Cup winning team, he said, "unlike ours, which was a weaker unit and were given a tag of the underdogs, this team is very strong."
"We never thought we would lift the Cup. We were the most inexperienced team in the competition. We just aimed at qualifying for the knockout stage. That was the only thing on our minds. In fact, no body even expected us to reach the knock-out round also," recollected Kirmani, who was awarded the best wicket-keeper in the 1983 World Cup.
"But we gained confidence when we won our opening match against then reigning world champions West Indies by 34 runs. After that game, we thought if we could beat the Windies in the very first encounter, why should we look back?"
Attributing Indian team's success in the 83' World Cup to their positive approach, consistency and complacency of other teams, he said, "whosoever we played they thought that we were a very weak side and took us lightly. But they were under a wrong impression. They failed to realise that on a particular day we were the better players."
Looking back at his own most memorable contribution to the team's success in the 83' World Cup, Kirmani said the match where captain Kapil Dev scored unbeaten 175 against Zimbabwe to turn the tide in India's favour, had him as a silent contributer at the other end.
"One of our most important matches of the tournament was against Zimbabwe when India found itself reeling at 17 for five with Kapil Dev trying to pull us out of trouble single-handedly. At 140 for eight, I joined Kapil who was playing at some 50 plus score with another 30-35 overs more to go in a 60-over match.
I walked in very boldly, as usual, without losing my concentration and before I took the stance I just went to Kapil and told him 'don't worry, you just play your natural game and I will be at my best at the other end, giving you the maximum support and maximum strike. I will just take a single and leave the deliveries for you to face'," narrated Kirmani.
"From there on it was one of the most fabulous knocks of Kapil that I have seen -- perhaps the most devastating one -- and I gave him the strength and we remained not out till 60 overs. He scored 175 and I scored somewhere between 23 to 30."
Kirmani, who remained not out on 24 till the end of 60 overs, shared a crucial unbeaten 126-run stand for the ninth wicket -- a record in itself -- with Kapil, to help India reach 266 for eight and set Zimbabwe a competitive target.
Zimbabwe, in their chase, faltered and were all out for 235 in 57 overs to hand over India a 31-run victory.
"This victory put us in the semi-finals where we beat England comprehensively and then went on to create history by defeating West Indies in the final, which is needless to say, is one of the most memorable moments of my career and life," concluded Kirmani.
India's WC Squad Has All Match-Winners: Kirmani
Chandraboli Mitra/New Delhi
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