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April 9, 1999

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The Rediff Interview / Roger Binny

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'We said, let's go out and fight!'

Ever since the World Cup went walkabout, first to the Indians and then to Australasia, the first 15 overs have pretty much become the slog. Do you think that strategy, brought to perfection by the Sri Lankans in 1996, will work in England?

 Roger Binny
I think the surfaces are different. It may not really be possible to hit up 90 in 15 overs this time. The batsmen wonít have it so easy.

So will teams need to go back to the old style of using the first ten overs to consolidate and see off the seaming new ball, keep wickets in hand, and make the big push towards the end of the innings?

I donít know what the rules are this time. Normally in England Ė atleast when we played in 1983 Ė we had to have four fielders in the circle throughout. I donít know whether they will have that rule, or the current one where you need only two fielders in close catching positions for the first 15. If it is four in the ring all the time, then it will be pretty much like it was for us in 1983, and then yes, keeping wickets in hand for the end is the best option.

Apart from the final at Lord's, the single most dramatic moment of that campaign was the Tunbridge game against Zimbabwe, which India could not see because of the BBC strike. Could you take us through your memories of that game?

 Kapil Dev
What I remember most clearly was that I had no time to relax at all that time! Normally, after we finished training and the first two batsmen went on, I would go to the canteen, pick up a tea or coffee and watch the first few overs, relaxing and sipping whatever beverage it was. But on that day, I barely picked up my tea and came back, to find that we were already two down! I actually had my training clothes on at the time. As I ran to change, the third wicket fell. Before I could get my pads on, the fourth had fallen! We were nine for four, and then 16 for five when I walked on. I was batsman number 7. My mind was a blank: I had not planned anything and had no strategies chalked out. Kapil Dev was still there when I went on. I still remember the first words he told me: 'Just stay around!'.

India was definitely considered the underdog at the semifinals at old Trafford. Did that ease or increase the pressure on the team? What was the Indian team's thinking going into the game, what kind of strategies were evolved? Did you believe you had a chance of going into the final?

We were all riding on a high, as we had gotten further than we had ever envisaged. We just decided to score runs, that's all. We were not scoring enough. That's why when we won the toss, we put them in to bat. England had a very strong side, with people like Alan Lamb and Mike Gatting in the lineup. What we did was break their middle order. We kept taking wickets and never gave them any time to recover. They had a good start of 48 runs and then they lost two wickets. It was our bowlers who brought us back into the game this time. They struck at regular intervals. Even Ian Botham: we got him out at a time when he could have turned the game around.

Was there a touch of complacency in the English ranks?

Yes, they were a bit cocky, because they knew they were a strong team, they were on their home turf, their supporters were all around them and they had a very good record against India. We had lost to them badly in 1982 and again in India that same year. We had not played them in the first round of the World Cup, but they still thought poorly of us, and that definitely gave us an upper hand.

At Lord's on June 25, India and the West Indies were even, with one win apiece in the league phase. How did the Indian team rate its chances of pulling it off? What was the mood like and what was the thinking?

We were very excited as we had reached a stage that none at home had ever expected. We were rather worried about our batting, we discussed it and decided that we just had to hit runs. We had nothing to lose. We had beaten everyone and had just one game left. So we told ourselves, let's ahead and put these chaps under pressure, we said let's go out and fight. We were confident but not overconfident. We knew that anything could happen.

At the halfway stage of the final, India seemed to have too few runs on the board. What was the mood like at lunch time that day and what were people thinking?

We were rather down, we would have felt disappointed if we had come that far and then let it go. But the lunch greak really helped us to regroup ourselves, get our second wind and decide to play all out in the last session. We did have a small break earlier in the morning too. We had done what we had to do and come into the finals. All we needed was a good start and we got that when Greenidge got out in the second over.

At which point in the West Indies innings did you guys begin to think you were winning? The banana inswinger with which Sandhu got Greenidge out? Or Kapil's running catch off the rampant Richards?

The turning point was when Richards got out. That was when things really changed. Richards looked as if he were all set to get 400 or 500 runs. After that, the Windies were really struggling.

What were the first few hours after the win like? What did it feel like to be on top of the cricketing world?

We were very excited, but I donít think the whole thing actually sank into our heads then. It was only when we all woke up the next morning that we realised what we had actually achieved! We had a huge number of telephone calls, fans visiting us....

Did anyone actually go overboard with excitement?

 K Srikanth
Srikanth was the funniest guy we had around on our team then. After we won the Cup, Srikanth, who was a complete teetotaller, downed a full glass of champagne! Then, he kept flicking his cigarettes all over the place. Suddenly, you would see smoke coming out of someoneís bag, someone elseís jacket pocket. He was quite a clumsy chap and always full of jokes. He was great guy to have around: there is so much tension and pressure in a series like that, that someone like Srikanth comes as a great relief, such a guy is a great asset for any dressing room.

Who else kept you laughing?

Sandeep Patil would always mimic opponents,sing popular songs. These guys really relieved dressing room tensions and helped us go out onto the field in a more relaxed frame of mind.

To come back to the present, could you analyse the Indian team of today? What do you see as its strengths? Weaknesses? How would you compare it with the team of 1983?

Its difficult to compare. They are completely different from what we were. There were so many all rounders with us. The interesting thing in that World Cup was that our main batsmen did not make a name for themselves at all. We had thought that Vengsarker, for example, who is an enormously talented batsman, would have played a key role in our victory. It was really numbers 4,5,6,7 and 8 who chipped in and did well. I think what we need to do now is strengthen the batting in this team. Take out Mongia and replace him with a good batsman. Six, seven and eight should be all-rounders or batsmen. What we really lack is a strong back end of the team. We had Kirmani batting at number 10 once, I batted at 10 another time. And we were all players who had scored centuries in first class cricket. That was the real strength of our side.

Yes, I acknowledge that we have the best five batsmen in the world. But I think we need to approach our batting differently now. And in terms of fielding, we are really lacking. We are giving away at least 30-plus runs every match because of poor fielding. That's what the bowlers are bowling to. If the bowlers are giving an extra 30 runs, the batsmen have got to score that back. We must now pull up our fielding.

However, I hope that once we get to that tournament, things will change and the team will get that extra push that makes everyone perform better. Once they get on that plane to England, let's hope they start putting their best feet forward. The entire Cup has become a much more hyped and publicised event now: until we got to the semi-finals, nobody in India even really took much interest in the series in 1983.

Is it because the Indian team is not as physically fit now that they are bad fielders and that there are no all rounders?

Fitness-wise we were very good, no doubt. But I think what is lacking is that extra effort. Even Sunil (Gavaskar), when he was on the field, put in his best effort. The pressure is now on the Indian team to do well and for that, they must start fielding well..

If the 1983 team at its peak faced the 1999 team at Lord's, what do you think the outcome would be?

The game has changed dramatically from then to now. Let me be honest with you. Its a different ball game altogether today. The game has changed a lot now. They are playing much better now than we ever were. The game has become much faster also now. And the exposure is so much more. They are much more experienced than we ever were. We played about 80 games in five or six years. Now they play about 200 games in that time.

The 1983 team did the job without a real spinner in its ranks -- do you think that is still true today? Is the spinner, in England, excess baggage? Is India better off going in with an all seam attack, with maybe Tendulkar turning a few if conditions warrant? Put another way, is Anil Kumble an automatic choice if you were a selector?

 Anil Kumble
Yes, I think a spinner will not do the job for you in England. He will bowl his quota of 10 overs, but he will not win the game for you. Between them, Kirti and Ravi bowled just 30 or 35 overs in the entire World Cup 1983 series, that's it. Of course, Anil will have to do all the spin bowling this time. But he is the kind of bowler who is very defensive and stingy: he has a good line and doesnít give runs. He is very well suited for one day cricket. The team absolutely must have him. But I think Agarkar is going to be the star bowler of this series. He gets a lot of movement off the wicket, and that's what you need to do in England.

If you were in complete charge of this Indian side from this point on, how would you go about preparing them for a successful campaign?

There is a big difference between bowling in India and in England. In India we bowl at three quarter length, pitched to the side and slightly short of length. In England, we always try and pitch the ball a bit further into the batsmanís half. I think the bowlers have to be continuously told what to do, and the batsmen constantly egged on to get more runs. Each must be given specific responsibility: openers, this is your target, this is what we expect you to achieve. And the middle order, this is your role: if numbers one and two get out, you must come in and consolidate. The main thing is to occupy the crease and play out the overs. We should look at a score of 240 to 250 runs. That would be my strategy. Everyone would be involved in it. If we are to win in England, it wonít be because of an individual like, say, Sachin, but because of the whole team.

We see the 1983 World Cup team on television every day supporting the present team and wishing them luck. Donít you think the BCCI should take this a step further and get the members of your old team to give the present players some advice?

It would be a good idea. Actually, the 1983 team is playing the present team in a benefit match in aid of Raman Lamba. At that time, we could talk to these boys. Iím sure that when they get to England, certain things we said would stand out in their memory. If Saurav and Rahul, for example, were to sit with Jimmy Amarnath and Sunil, certain things they discussed would definitely help.

How do you assess the group India is in, with a view to its chances of qualifying for the Super Six stage?

I think we are in a tough group, with countries like South Africa, Sri Lanka, England, Zimbabwe, which is going to rather a grind. We are playing South Africa in a place where the ball seams a lot and in very cold conditions, very unlike those prevailing in India, and that is going to be a tough way to start the tournament. On current form, I would say that you will have South Africa, England and then India.

In 1983, India was the dark horse that suddenly won. Who do you think is the outsider with an excellent outside chance this time?

I think New Zealand will be the one this time. Their home conditions are very similar: wet, cold and damp. Although they have been losing to South Africa, in England they will be an altogether different proposition.

Who do you think will win the Cup this time? Who are your favourites?

Its tough to pinpoint a team. But Australia is my own favourite. They have the all rounders, the batsmen, the bowlers. England will be a tough team to beat, as they are playing on home conditions. If India can just overcome their fielding inadequacies, they will definitely be a team to watch.

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