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‘India surely among favourites’

Mumbai: Bobby Simpson, Australia’s 1987 World Cup-winning coach, has named India among the three teams capable of winning next year’s edition. The tournament, No. 8 since the 1975 launch, will not only be the longest (February 9-March 23), but never before have 14 teams competed.

Arguably the finest coach anywhere, Simpson was the Indian team’s consultant both in the lead-up and during the 1999 World Cup. In fact, he remains the only coach to have been around in three consecutive editions: 1987, 1992, 1996.

While Australia, co-hosts, didn’t even make the 1992 semi-finals, they lost in the title-round of the 1996 meet.

Talking to The Telegraph at the Cricket Club of India Monday afternoon, Simpson said: “Australia, India and South Africa are the three most capable of winning. And, if I have to pick a dark horse, I will go for Sri Lanka — they play the one-day game particularly well.”

While Australia are the holders and South Africa the principal hosts, Sri Lanka won the tournament in 1996, a full 13 years after India became the first Asian nation to lift the World Cup.

Simpson, though, had a word of advice for India. “It’s going to be a long tournament and, so, consistency will be the key. Also, your boys must be mentally strong to overcome any early setback... The World Cup, after all, will make a heavy demand on the mind. Luck, of course, will play a role and the nature of wickets may also be critical.”

Talking about the difference between the present lot, led by the passionate Sourav Ganguly, and the Mohammed Azharuddin-captained team in 1999, Simpson noted: “The biggest difference, going by what I saw in Colombo, is that the current team is very settled and has variety. Moreover, the boys look happy and play as a unit.”

Simpson, himself a former Australian captain, added: “Also, it’s quite obvious more effort is being put and the fitness has definitely improved. Indeed, the present team looks real good — a contributory factor being the emergence of youngsters like Mohammed Kaif, who are such outstanding fielders.”

In Simpson’s opinion, as the “run of the ball” plays a bigger role in one-day cricket, making the most of even the smallest break is essential. Discipline, predictably, is a top element.

Simpson, incidentally, is working with ICC Trophy winners Holland as consultant. Like India, the Dutch have been clubbed in Pool A, with the other teams being Australia, England, Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

In town for a few days on a private visit, Simpson acceded to a request from Indian coach John Wright and spent time at the team’s nets, ahead of the first Test against the West Indies, late in the afternoon. It was a nice gesture.

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