`There is a blend of experience and youth in the team'

Kapil Dev Nikhanj, the legendary all-rounder, shared his views about the Indian team, skipper Sourav Ganguly and the India-Pakistan contests in this interview to The Sportstar in Chennai.

S. DINAKAR

Kapil Dev Nikhanj, the legendary all-rounder, shared his views about the Indian team, skipper Sourav Ganguly and the India-Pakistan contests in this interview to The Sportstar in Chennai.

Pic. K. BALAJI

Question: You were in South Africa watching the Indian team perform so well in the World Cup. However, the final came as a disappointment. What do you think went wrong?

Answer: It was nice to see the younger lot firing. They have so much enthusiasm. Yes, the only thing I feel sorry is that they didn't lift the Cup. They were showing too much eagerness to win. If they had been keen to play a good game instead, it would have been better. They should have taken the final like any other match. Being overcharged doesn't take you anywhere; this can have a negative effect. The important thing is to stay focussed.

What was the difference between your team's performance in '83, and Ganguly's men in the recent World Cup?

When you make the final, you should be relaxed. In any sports, when you relax, your performance will be better than when you are tense and too eager.

The Indians will be touring Australia from November end, and that is bound to be a demanding campaign. The Aussies are a formidable force in all forms of the game these days.

The present Australian team is excellent. It definitely won't be an easy series. To win against Australia, our batting has to be very, very good. They have to put runs on the board. If our batsmen can measure up to the challenge, we can perform better than what we did before.

In the past, our batsmen have struggled to cope with the seaming, bouncing pitches down under, especially during our last tour in 1999-2000.

You have to live with that. You have to learn. Now they are more experienced. They have the talent. There is a blend of experience and youth in the team. They have played in all conditions.

You have obviously played an inspirational role when it comes to the growth of pace bowling in India. In the World Cup, the trio of Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra made waves. Your comments?

I could say I played 20 years of cricket, but these are the three best fast bowlers I have seen in my time, who played in one go for the country. This is the best pace attack that I have seen in one Indian team.

Your old team-mate Javagal Srinath is still around, but has revealed a desire to retire from international cricket. Do you believe we need this experienced paceman during the tour of Australia? Skipper Sourav Ganguly feels strongly that Srinath should be a part of the side for the Big Test.

I will never forgive Srinath for not playing in the Test series in New Zealand. That was the worst thing Srinath did for himself and for everybody else. Such a great bowler, who has done so well, I wish he had played. Coming to his playing in Australia, it is entirely up to him to decide. If he can play the World Cup after that one-day series in New Zealand... he has to judge. We cannot judge for him. He has to see whether he is good enough. The team always needs great players.

Your views on Sourav Ganguly's captaincy. He has managed to turn things around for India.

If I have to look at the negatives, I can pick up a lot of points. But the positive thing is that all the team members believe in him. That is the sign of a captain. It's what you look for. If they believe in what he is doing, that's fine for me. He's done far better than anybody else. At least, he is showing his emotions, his reaction. He's coming out, he's not hiding. If he can work on his fielding, I think he will be even better.

Passion was the cornerstone of your cricket. Does the present Indian team have enough of this essential quality?

It looks like they have a lot of passion. Sachin is a great example. He plays with a lot of passion. Sometimes, I feel he doesn't play his natural game. People used to tell me also, that sometimes I did not play my natural game. Otherwise, you have Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, these are the guys who displayed a lot of passion. Mohammed Kaif, diving around like that, doing great things, and Yuvraj... and the young Parthiv, he showed guts.

There is now a talk of having a batting and a bowling coach for the Indian side. Cricket is becoming increasingly a specialised game.

If anything can improve the players, and if the finer points can be drilled into them, that's positive thinking. You cannot just sit and cry. You have to do something. Who knows what will come out of the move.

Focussing on bowling, would you advocate separate coaches for the pacemen and spinners?

If you can afford to do it why not? Doesn't matter if it is pace bowling coach or a spin bowling coach, or one for wicket-keepers or for fielding. This is an age and time, when you need some specialists and if the players are willing to learn why not?

If you were the coach of the Indian side, wouldn't these `specialists' undermine your authority and control?

I don't know. I have never thought about it that way. I am not the coach now. The people who are deciding... they must have played enough cricket... they must have seen enough cricket.

What do you feel about India-Pakistan rivalry on the cricket field?. How much did these matches mean to you?

Playing a neighbouring country always brings the best out of you. It's more challenging because more people are concerned and involved. We know about each other's culture and everything. We want to perform one step ahead. You want to perform against every team, but you are more keen, and it is a bigger challenge when you meet Pakistan. It's like Australia-England. Everything was so special. Particularly to me, I understand the language (Punjabi) so well.

As an unsung but determined lad from Chandigarh, you made your debut in Test cricket, against Pakistan in Faisalabad, '78. Any memories?

I remember only one thing. Zaheer Abbas hammered us so badly. And he finished our spin attack there. That was a time when there was a change in Indian cricket, with the newer lot like us coming into the scene.

In the third Test of that series, at Karachi, you are said to have bowled at your fastest. That was the time when many realised here was a genuine pace bowling talent from India. Later on, you deliberately cut down on your pace.

It was just a challenge. I hate defeat. I couldn't bowl so fast after that, I became the only bowler. We had lost the spinners and we had no other bowlers. So I had to bowl 20-25 overs every day. I was the main bowler rather than a strike bowler.

When the star-studded Pakistan side visited India in 1979-80, they were up against a very different Indian side. That was a tremendous Test series win for India.

By that time, I had matured. Sunil Gavaskar took over. He had done extremely well. There was new blood in the team. New josh was there. You require new blood on and off. It gives the team a very nice feeling.

The series decider in Bangalore in '87, where Sunil Gavaskar produced a masterpiece in his final Test, saw Pakistan defeat India in a thriller. You were the captain then.

It was sad. After Sunil (Gavaskar) played such a fantastic innings in his last Test, we should have played a little more harder and won it for him. Whenever you lose a Test, there is a regret, but we were in a winning situation, and we lost.

Is this the right time for the resumption of cricketing ties between India and Pakistan?

Cricket is not important now. Some other things are far more important. It is up to the politicians to ensure that the cricketing ties are resumed at the right time. Not we.