| David Gower
London: David Gower definitely doesn't need an introduction. The former England captain (among the most graceful of batsmen), who is now in the elite bracket of TV commentators, spoke to The Telegraph for over half-an-hour on Friday.
The following are excerpts
Q There has been criticism about the timing of this Champions Trophy. Have you also had reservations'
A (Smiles) The ICC has almost got away with it... Only the final remains... I don't think the toss has been too much of a factor, though... In fact, if I was to defend the ICC often, when the sun has been out, people have wondered why isn't there any (top level) cricket at this time of the year... So...
Did you expect an England versus the West Indies final'
To be honest, no... All the more credit, then, to the finalists. (After a pause) The India-Pakistan game could have gone either way ' one always knew it would be close ' but, otherwise, the semi-finalists' line-up didn't surprise.
The Indians' rather early exit must have disappointed you'
Well, yes... Six months ago, Virender Sehwag would have got four runs for the flick... On Sunday, it went straight to a fielder... It happens to the very best... If five of the top six batsmen (the exception being Rahul Dravid) can't look at the mirror and say they did their best, then there's a problem... That the match actually went so close suggests India would have won had another front-ranking batsman got a decent score... There was one game where the Indians had to get it right ' they didn't.
What has gone wrong with Sehwag'
Nothing much, really... As I've said, even the best go through a rough period... Unless something strange has happened which you and I don't know of, his form will return.
Where do you rate Team India'
It's a good side... I've always had a high regard for Dravid and, now, the Indians have a passionate left-arm opening bowler who swings the ball ' Irfan Pathan... Being left-arm and having the ability to swing is a fine combination... I understand he learns quickly which, again, is good. To succeed, you need an attitude... Pathan has it.
(Interrupting) He was head and shoulders better than anybody the other day, in Edgbaston... He doesn't appear to change... He's still getting a lot of runs and continues to be easy on the eye... Great to watch... (Again, after a pause) To consistently score, and in style, points to the outstanding professional that Dravid is.
With the world largely focussing either on Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara, Dravid gets pushed to the background. Do you agree'
I don't think he is underrated... On the contrary, he is highly respected. As I don't get into the business of ratings, Lokendra, I won't tell you where he figures among the all-time greats.
To talk of England, you ought to be thrilled with the 2004 performances...
Yes... Our team has evolved and nobody has made a bigger difference than Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff... The latter didn't do much in his first three-four years but, in the past 18 months or so, has outdone even Ian Botham in one-day cricket...As for Harmison, he has progressed from being just raw to almost becoming an excellent finished product... He has altered his action a little and, obviously, that has worked. Today, Harmison is a much more confident cricketer and person... Indeed, it has been an excellent year as everybody has made some impact... Has produced something important.
Has Michael Vaughan's captaincy impressed'
You know, it's hard to tell what a man is going to do... However, what has emerged is that Michael is a clear-thinking, straightforward, respected and successful captain... He has been a fine counter-balance to what England had before... We did have quite a bit of success under Nasser Hussain, but he was a 'driven' sort of a captain... In taking England forward, Michael has been able to use the spirit injected by Hussain. At this moment, there are fewer weak links and (coach) Duncan Fletcher's role shouldn't be underestimated.
Over a year after he quit the top job what, in your opinion, is the Hussain legacy'
Hussain made England harder to beat... He would work mighty hard... Pushed and cajoled... What he did then was, at that point, needed and helped our side... Of course, Hussain's rapport with the coach made things easier and everybody knew what was expected of them... One saw a sense of purpose. That continues.
Harmison has pulled out of the trip to Zimbabwe. Well, you've consistently held strong views on touring there...
Yes, we ought not to be touring Zimbabwe.
On moral grounds... I know the ICC doesn't recognise such grounds, but England in Zimbabwe is a unique situation... Politics is inextricably intertwined and is very different to the politics elsewhere. I'm appalled at what has happened in Zimbabwe and amazed at how they have got away with politicising their cricket... I do sympathise with those wanting to play the sport there but, if I had my way, I would suspend Zimbabwe from all forms of cricket till the problems are sorted out. Harmison has made an honourable choice and we must respect that.
Speaking generally, how does the rest of the world catch up with Australia'
The Ashes in 1986-87 was the catalyst for the Australians... They identified players with character, looked at starting the academy, vastly improved the infrastructure... Look at England, our state-of-art academy only began last year... So, the rest of us have to learn... If I may add, the Australians have never been complacent. There will definitely come a time when their cutting edge is going to go... India almost had them last season... As for me, I'll be waiting for next summer's Ashes.
How should India approach the forthcoming Test series'
Your worry is that the batsmen aren't getting runs and, to beat Australia, you must have a total on board. If the runs aren't there, expect to struggle, even though Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are going to have an impact.
Are you happy with increased technology being made available to the umpires'
(Grins) This will be debated every year... I'm happy as long as the spirit of cricket doesn't get affected.
Lastly, is there a 'threat' to the sport'
Not a threat, but the ICC should look closely at the emerging nations featuring in tournaments like the World Cup and the Champions Trophy... There's a time and place for them to play ' in my view, however, that isn't in the Champions Trophy or the World Cup... It's important for the emerging nations to compete and learn... Getting hammered isn't going to do any good... Moreover, that demeans a tournament and brings about that drag-feeling... With 16 teams for the 2007 World Cup, I fear many of us will lose the will to live halfway through the event! Therefore, keep the premier tournaments for the best.