‘Indians have to fight hard’

“Australia and South Africa have players of quality. They look pretty strong. New Zealand are capable because they can beat any of those two teams,” says John Wright, as he picks his top three teams for the 2015 World Cup. By G. Viswanath.

John Wright has played 18 matches in four World Cups (1979-1992) — in the old fashioned way in flannels, in typical English environment, and also when coloured clothing, lights and white balls were introduced. The New Zealander was also the coach of the Indian team that lost to Australia in the 2003 final in Johannesburg.

Now, Wright is part of the Mumbai Indians set-up and is scouting for new talent in the on-going Ranji Trophy season. He spoke to Sportstar about the chances Australia, New Zealand and, in particular, India have in the 2015 ICC World Cup. He is of the view that India has “to work a lot”, and play “tough cricket” if it has to successfully defend the title it won in 2011.

Excerpts:

Question: Would you say that the Indian team led by M. S. Dhoni had accomplished a lot and peaked at the right time to win the title in 2011? Would it be too much to expect a repeat from them, especially in Australian and New Zealand conditions?

Answer: India has played two One-Day games against Australia and England in the recent tri-series in Australia. I feel they have a lot of work to do. They have to start playing tough cricket. You cannot win a big tournament bowling on both sides of the wicket. They have to sort it out quickly. They have to look at the way they are performing; you just cannot go on bowling on both sides. You have to bowl on one side.

Forties and fifties are not going to help. (In the recent tri-series in Australia) Rohit Sharma made 138, and no one else scored any runs. They should have easily got them. You have to get eighties and nineties, not thirties and forties. In a World Cup, when it’s your day, you have to make it count. India has to start doing all this now. In the defence of the World Cup, India has to be up on its fielding, and be accurate with the ball because this will give the batsmen plenty of confidence. If the batsmen have to be constantly chasing huge totals, it does not help. India has to sort out things soon.

India batted well in home conditions to win the World Cup, but it obviously cannot rely on this particular department alone to outplay teams in Australia and New Zealand…

They cannot. The wickets are not as flat in Australia and New Zealand. You can bat other teams out of the game, but that does not happen so easily in that part of the world. You have to look at your fielding and bowling, which gives a strong foundation, and they have to sort that out. India look like having the boys who can bowl, but it is a question of where they put the ball.

Do you think Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane have spent a lot of energy during the Test series, and that could affect their performance in the World Cup?

No. They are young men. It’s a great opportunity; it’s the World Cup. They are not 52. They had a good spell in the Test series. There’s always pressure. Being with the Indian team there is always a tournament round the corner and they are always playing under pressure. They have to look at it positively by saying ‘Here’s an opportunity to defend the World Cup and win it (for the second time) in a row’. If you are fatigued at the start, that’s not going to help you at all. Everyone plays a lot of cricket nowadays. It’s not easy, but it’s a matter of getting used to that pressure and making it part of your life as you put on the ‘Indian blue’.

I will only look at the players I had worked with… Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath... They were big players; they learned to handle pressure. Then the youngsters like Virender Sehwag came through. Glenn Turner once said to me, ‘Getting picked is easy, it’s what you do when you get there that counts’. That’s the way one should look at things; there’s a great opportunity being granted by the selectors. You have to flip the coin and say ‘This is my big chance’. When I look at some of the players in the squad now, they are capable of having a tremendous World Cup, but they have to fight hard.

Would you say the Asian teams are not high in anybody’s estimation?

No. You cannot rule out any side, in particular Pakistan. With Sri Lanka, it’s a question of how their experienced players like Mahela (Jayawardene) and (Kumar) Sangakkara play, and also Malinga. If these three play well, Sri Lanka will have a good tournament. They did not do too well against New Zealand. India has to step up to the mark, and Pakistan can get on a roll very quickly.

What would Australia and New Zealand demand from their teams to excel in the competition?

It’s basically self-belief. I think that’s the biggest thing. You cannot think too much about form. The self-belief should be: we have the team to win the World Cup. You have to turn up as a group in the tournament with a conviction that you are capable of winning the Cup.

What would be your top three pick?

Australia and South Africa have players of quality. They look pretty strong. New Zealand are capable because they can beat any of those two teams. They beat South Africa in South Africa recently. And New Zealand love playing Australia. So, New Zealand has the advantage. These are my top three for sure, but I don’t want to put pressure on them.

These teams have done incredibly well and then there could be a big surprise; and that would be the team that scraps hard and gets the best out of itself. Anyone can do that. At the end of the day, you have one or two players; like in England, you look around and see Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. The West Indies have Chris Gayle. Pakistan have some nice balance because they have batsmen who can bowl. If India were to play well, they can do it too; they have to play some really tough cricket. They have to create that belief, and this particularly has to start with the discipline they have to show with their bowling.

I watched them the other day (in the tri-series) and they could have beaten Australia easily (in Melbourne). Australia seemed to come under pressure at the end of the game; another 20 runs, we could have been talking about a completely different result. They were outclassed in Brisbane (by England); they could not cope with the bounce. So, India would have learned two things from those games — that if they had bowled a little better and strung together a few partnerships, they would have probably won the game. India has some work to do. There should not be any excuses.

What are the big changes you see now from the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand?

Obviously, it’s a bigger tournament now; it was seen as big then, but it’s much more bigger now because of the larger presence of media. The other day, I was watching the highlights of some of the old tournaments and there was a lot more expressions from the players. There’s hype now around World tournaments and more money too.

Defying the Aussies. Rohit Sharma in action during a tri-series match in Melbourne recently. Rohit, who scored138 in the match against Australia, was the only century maker for India in the competition. "You have to get eightiesand nineties, not thirties and forties (to win matches)," says John Wright.-AP

This time, will the accent be on seam or spin bowling?

I think certain teams will fancy their chances with seam bowling. Given the conditions in Australia and New Zealand, one would want to be strong with the new ball. You need to be because there is not going to be any purchase or even turn for the spinners. You have to be a really good spinner to make the ball turn. I think the wickets are better for One-Day matches. There would always be a need for a spinner. New Zealand may offer damper conditions.

There is the ICC condition that the pitch should not allow for too much lateral movement…

The pitches looked flat in the India-Australia series. In New Zealand, the pitch preparation is a lot more scientific and so the One-Day wickets will be a lot better. The same happened in South Africa (2003 World Cup). The Centurion wicket used to be so fast and quick; it turned into a new wicket. So, you keep an eye on these things. There is no doubt in my mind that Australia and New Zealand won’t mind the home conditions if the odd pitch seamed around. The New Zealand wickets are better batting wickets now; a team can get 300 and more. There could be a combination of wickets though that would demand much from the skilful modern-day player.

So, what can the bowlers in general expect from the wickets in Australia and New Zealand? The batsmen have been a little more innovative with switch-hits, reverse-hits, scoops and the de Villiers shots...

At the moment, it looks as though the bat is dominating the ball. If anyone saw the match in Brisbane, the English team looked impressive on that wicket against India. They bowled well. So, with two new balls, it would be a challenge to take on the Australian and South African attacks. They will get help from certain wickets, and when you get conditions that are in your favour, you have to make them count.

Generally, batting first and putting runs on the board should be the aim, but if you get a bowler/seamer-friendly wicket, you have to make a decision at the toss that’s correct. Brisbane would give that option with extra bounce. Look at India, they have been in Australia for two months and they have still not adjusted (to the conditions). It would be interesting to see if that (seamer-friendly conditions) would have a bearing on a team’s performance and progress at any stage.

What is your perspective on the 2015 World Cup?

Whichever way you look at it now, it’s very open. Sri Lanka will be heavily dependent on Lasith Malinga, but they don’t know whether he will be around. England’s bowling looks decent, but the question is how well will its batting do. Pakistan is an unknown commodity. The West Indies can be dangerous any day, but it depends on how well they gel as a team.

New Zealand looks promising; they cannot get ahead of themselves, but they are looking okay. Australia and South Africa look like they normally do — formidable. But Australia have also looked more vulnerable than they have been in the past.