Paper Tigers No, Say Experts

Updated: Jan 26 2003, 05:30am hrs
With drooping shoulders and bent heads, Team Samsung entered Nilgiri Hall of the Oberoi Delhi, where the Samsung-ESPN Cricketer Of The Year 2002 Award was going to be announced. At the end of the award ceremony, the floor was opened to the full-house audience for questions. Six cricketersRahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Mohd Kaif, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwagwere present in the hall, but surprisingly, not a single question was asked. The low spirit of the players on the podium had inflicted the audience as well, it seemed.

Can the Men In Blue re-script the success of 1983 again this year A billion dollar question indeed. However, many old hands in the game believe that India stand a fair chance, though they are reluctant to rank them as favourites.

The captain of the 1983 World Cup team and Indian Cricketer Of The Century, Kapil Dev, was himself in a dilemma whether to put his heart before his mind with regard to Indias chances in this World Cup.

As an Indian, my heart says yes, but my mind says no, Mr Dev said at a recent cricketers felicitation ceremony held at Amity School in Noida.

The cricketing ace of yesteryears does not feel India has a realistic chance of winning the World Cup in South Africa. But I wish that the team performs something extraordinary to clinch the coveted title for the second time, he exudes hope.

Talentwise, this is the best team India has ever produced, but the big players need to perform when it matters the most. But with their current form, its very difficult to see Indias victory, but you never know in cricket. Nobody gave us any chance at the 1983 World Cup. And we proved everyone wrong.

Mr Dev says Indias chances in South Africa would depend on the performance of the batsmen. The big guns must blaze at the right time and they have to perform very well as Indias strength is in its batting; bowling and fielding still remain grey areas when compared to other teams in the race for the title. If India can make it to the Super Six round, then it stands a fair chance to win the trophy, he believes.

Mr Devs contemporary, Kirti Azad says, Im not at all perturbed by the poor show Sourav Ganguly and his team put up in New Zealand. Though batting is Indias forte and it is mainly the batsmen who let India down in New Zealand, the World Cup in South Africa will be a different story altogether, where the Indian batsmen will find more favourable batting pitches.

Mr Azad declines to quantify Indias chances of winning the Cup or even of making it to the Super Six round. India will do very well, that much I can say. I cant rank their chances on a scale of 1 to 10. In fact, no cricketer, who has really played cricket, can rank a team this way. India has a very good batting line-up and is full of talent that can be neither ignored nor suppressed for long.

The manager of the Indian team for the 1992 World Cup, Abbas Ali Baig, expresses his opinion, The forgettable New Zealand tour should be rather seen as an aberration with the kind of pitches the Indians had to play there. The under-prepared pitches in New Zealand offered much movement off the pitch and the weather conditions also offered a lot movement in the air. Under such conditions, any batsman is bound to be tentative. The pitches in South Africa are much harder than those in New Zealand and there will be little movement in the ball off the pitch and in the air. Though the pitches here will offer a lot of bounce and pace, the ball will easily come onto bat, which Indian stroke-players such as Sachin, Sehwag, Sourav and Yuvraj will certainly love.

Mr Baig admits, The New Zealand tour has revealed some technical defects in Indian batsmen playing swinging balls, particularly those shots of playing away from the body. Indian batsmen should rectify these technical shortcomings. The time left between their return from New Zealand and departure for South Africa is too short to do it. However, they can do without it because in South Africa and Zimbabwe, the ball will easily come onto bat and without much movement.

The more important concern for the Indian batsmen is their sagging morale. Elaborates Mr Baig. Mind that India is in the Group Of Death. The preliminary round will be very tough for India. Though I dont rank them as one of the tournament favourites, India stand a fair chance, say 6/10, to make it to the Super Six round. From there, it is anybodys game.

Surender Khanna, a former wicketkeeper and currently a member of the talent search committee for India Junior, is hopeful of India making it to the Super Six round.

The criticism about the team among certain quarters is gaining ground because of their poor performance in New Zealand, Mr Khanna says. But we should not forget their brilliant performance during the ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka and the NatWest Trophy in England. Srinath and Zaheer Khan in bowling and Sehwag in batting are the great pluses of the New Zealand tour and these revelations are enough to boost up the sagging morale of our team if they just give a thought to it. What India should really bother about is their fielding. Being a wicket-keeper myself, Id opt for a specialist wicketkeepereither Ajay Ratra or Vijay Dhaiya. I see nothing wrong in keeping Rahul Dravid. In my opinion, what works for the team is good. And the team with Dravid as the keeper is doing good.

Despite India being in the toughest group, Mr Khanna believes they stand a very fair chance of 8/10 to make it to the Super Six round.

The Indian team can boost its morale with the thought that Pakistan has also suffered a humiliating defeat from the South Africans, according to Sunil Valson, former left-arm, fast-medium bowler. Pakistan will also go to the World Cup with a low morale and India should capitalise on that when the two meet on March 1.

Mr Valson adds, I wont rate India as a tournament favourite, simply because they are in a group where there are mighty Australia (unanimously the favourites), Pakistan and England. However, with their batting talents and depth, India has a good chance, say 7/10, to sail through the preliminary rounds. If Indian players can give 70-75 per cent of their potential, they will make it to the Super Six round. And this is likely because the pitches in South Africa and Zimbabwe will be very different from New Zealand.

According to Mr Valson, fatigue is unlikely to take a toll on the Indian performance. See, Sachin has got enough rest before and during the New Zealand tour. Zaheer Khan, Sourav and Anil Kumble have also got reasonable rest. They will have to come out of the depression of the defeat. I believe they will, and you will find a different Indian team in the World Cup.