Zaheer Khan was one of the architects of India’s historic title win in the 2011 ODI World Cup. The pace ace spearheaded the team’s fast bowling department and put up one of the greatest performances in the history of the tournament - claiming 21 wickets in nine matches.
As another home World Cup beckons, the former India international believes that adapting to the conditions will be crucial for the Men in Blue as they travel from one end of the country to another over the next month and a half.
In an interaction organised by Booking.com - the accommodation partner for the ODI World Cup - Zaheer shared his thoughts with Sportstar about how India should approach the ICC event.
India will be travelling to nine cities in about 40 days. Does so much travel during a tournament affect the team, especially when the tournament is being played at home and the expectations are sky-high?
That’s all part and parcel of what you are getting into. It can add that extra bit of pressure, but it also comes as a support. So, you have to balance the two. But what matters is how the team is coming together. In a tournament like the World Cup, you often talk about starting well and setting the tone. So, those factors will be very important when you are looking at this campaign of the Indian team.
India arguably has the best pace attack in the world, but what should be the strategy going forward?
The strategy will be purely dependent on the conditions which are on offer. At times, you do become prisoners of your thoughts. I have never believed in a process where you set the whole thing from the outside. You got to play the game, and you got to stay with the game as it unfolds.
So, once you have a squad of 15, it is about how you are putting it together on that particular day against that particular opposition. That should be the approach, and you have to be flexible in just manoeuvring as the tournament goes along.
At times, there are pivots which are required, and you can’t be rigid with that. So, you have by and large planning, which is looking really good when you see this campaign and the Indian team - there are a lot of positives.
There were some concerns maybe a month or two months back, but as you are getting into the tournament, all those concerns have been very much put to the side, and you are looking at a well-rounded squad with a lot of individuals in good form - having runs and wickets under their belts.
All these are positive signs, but flexibility in your approach to playing the game on a particular day and being ready with whatever it takes to do the right things at that particular moment should be the way to go. If they are able to go in with that and set the tone for the campaign, it’s going to be a great one.
India’s spin department will revolve around Ravichandran Ashwin. What does someone like Ashwin bring to the table, when the tournament is being played at home?
Axar’s was a forced change, so you had initially planned your campaign around him. But when you shift your planning, it’s better to go with an experienced player, and even from the outside, we could see that the communication was quite open around that.
So, when you are looking at such a situation, obviously you are looking at experience as the main factor, and Ashwin, for sure, has that experience, having played at the highest level. The World Cup is going to bring that much pressure, those added expectations and someone who’s able to manage nicely with that is Ashwin.
Now, how he is going to be used and how tactically you are going to approach is something we have to wait and see. It’s all about how you are assessing the conditions, and which opposition you are playing against, and what kind of combination you are going ahead with.
With Shardul Thakur as the fourth fast bowling option, how crucial will he be in the middle-overs, finding breakthroughs?
I have been talking about it for a while. It’s about how you stack up the bowling attack and tactically, how you are looking to use your players throughout the tournament. Whether you want extra batting or you want to be more aggressive against a particular team - that’s something you need to be flexible with. That will be the key to this campaign.
It is such a long tournament, so how should the team management look at managing the workload of the fast bowlers?
I am someone who always believed that workload management is about bowling as many overs as possible. So, for me, there’s no substitute for that, and if you are a bowler, you just continue to bowl. That’s how I look at it (laughs).
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