Visakhapatnam: Like captain Rahul Dravid, Greg Chappell could do with a 30-hour day as the demands on his time are enormous. On Thursday evening, however, he spared almost two hours at the Taj Residency for three newspapers ó The Telegraph and one each from Bangalore and Mumbai. Despite being late for dinner, the coach (whose contract is till the end of the World Cup) answered all questions.
The following are excerpts
On Indiaís chances in the World Cup
Itís impossible to tell and I donít have a crystal ball... I canít predict, but weíve got as good a chance as most teams... Iím of the view that any of the eight seeded ones could take the trophy... Till a couple of weeks ago most would have thought Australia were outright favourites, but Andrew Symondsí injury has changed that. In fact, the injury has thrown open the World Cup... The toss, I guess, could make a difference as also the ability to create opportunities and take advantage. Whatís certain is that no match can be taken lightly... Bangladesh beat Australia less than two years ago... England beat Australia to win the just-ended tri-series... As a first step, we want to make the semi-finals. From then on, it will be a different ball game and no team is guaranteed anything.
[If Symondsí injury wasnít bad enough for Australia, Fridayís development is that the fast and furious Brett Lee could miss the World Cup...]
On there being no surprise in Indiaís 15-man squad
(Grins) Itís the squad India wanted... There were options, but only time will tell whether selection being on expected lines is a good thing or not. All 15 must see themselves as frontline players, for if you go into a World Cup relying on key players alone, then youíre dead.
On whether having toured the West Indies last summer is going to be an advantage
Maybe, may not be... It will be if conditions are the same as last year when most wickets were slow and low... Having said that, the team that does well on the day is the one which will win... Itís about the quality and intensity of play over the 100 overs.
On Team Indiaís performance in the recent series against the West Indies and the ongoing one versus Sri Lanka
Weíre playing better than in South Africa... The balance is definitely better, but the team generally plays well at home. However, what weíve done in the last six ODIs isnít necessarily going to have a bearing on the World Cup. (After a pause) Yuvraj (Singh) being in form is going to make a big difference... When in form, heís one of the best in the world... Heís superb in the middle stages and the 30-40 overs period is going to be crucial... Teams which play well there will have the best chance of progressing.
On the composition of Indiaís attack in the World Cup
Three seamers will almost surely play in every match... Ideally, we would like to field five bowlers, but that may not be possible... Our advantage is that weíve got three top-order batsmen (Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj) who bowl more than adequate spin. Spinners could decide quite a few matches.
On Dravidís comment that ďweíve got to be smart with the placement of certain fieldersĒ and whether heís concerned that the quality of our fielding may not be high
Concern isnít too strong a word, itís probably not strong enough! To be frank, thereís no doubt weíre going to concede runs to the better teams... We knew that when the squad was picked and weíve got to organise ourselves accordingly. Weíve got to place men in positions to get the best out of them... I expect a few medium-scoring (below 200) matches and, so, runs will have to be saved and weíve got to try and keep improving. To get over our weakness on the field, the batsmen must find 30 extra runs... If some feel weíve got a Dadís Army, then I canít do anything about it. The positive side is that no team has our experience. I would like to look at that.
On whether Sourav Gangulyís exceptional catch to dismiss Sanath Jayasuriya in Goa lessens his worry somewhat
If the concern is that we may give away 30 runs in every match, then weíve got to look at ways to bring that down to 10... Such catches will help.
On the possibility of Sehwag getting to regularly open with Sourav
Heís a proven matchwinner at the top of the order and if heís in form, thatís where he will do the maximum damage. Thatís the ideal situation, but flexibility is going to be the name of our game. The best XI will largely depend on form. Bottomline is that weíve got to get the key players in form at the right time... Itís going to be a delicate act... Iím happy weíve got the balance which gives good flexibility. Some weeks back, we were less sure about certain things. Except for Veeru and Yuvraj, the other batsmen are in form and weíve got a formidable line-up. A lot of teams would like to have the experience of our top six (Sourav, Sehwag, Sachin, Yuvraj, Dravid and Mahendra Singh Dhoni ó theyíve played a mind-boggling 1,368 ODIs and scored an awesome 46,301 runs)... Actually, we need all 15 to be in form as one never knows who can get injured. Keeping all fit is going to be a challenge. Key players, particularly, will have to be managed very well.
On Sachin getting a middle-order slot
He has the talent, the experience and has the creativity... Sachin has the mind to deal with different situations... To have someone with the experience of almost 400 ODIs in the middle-order is terrific... Initially, he was a bit reluctant to take on this role at this stage in his career... He needed a few matches to settle down and has done very well. I spoke to Sachin the other day (about his changed role) and he said he was feeling more comfortable with each day... Personally, I would like him at No.4 and, today, weíve got a more dimensional batsman if we need him back at the top... At this stage, Iím not unduly worried about his back problem. Hopefully, his form and fitness will hold throughout the World Cup.
On Dinesh Karthik
He has come from a long way back... I think heís going to have an important role in the World Cup and beyond... If people think heís a wicketkeeper who bats, then theyíve got it all wrong. Karthik is a batsman who íkeeps... Iíve been impressed from the time I first saw him at a camp in Bangalore... Heís a thinking cricketer and took my advice that he should mould himself as a batsman who íkeeps... Iíve always seen him as an investment and itís a huge bonus that he íkeeps. Karthik has taken the limited opportunities very well and gives us options.
On first-choice íkeeper Dhoni
Oh, heís one of the most improved cricketers anywhere in the past 12 months... He has worked hard on his batting... His íkeeping... Dhoni is one of our key players... In fact, there are some who are more so and he fits that category. Not too long ago, he was seen as somebody would blaze away at the end of the innings. Now, heís a quality middle-order batsman.
On the difference mental toughness can make in tournaments such as the World Cup
The mental side is a critical area in cricket... The better state that youíre in mentally, the better your chances of succeeding... All teams will be under pressure and the ones which handle the stress of a World Cup better are the ones which will do well... India reached the final of the last edition and must have handled the pressure well. Losing in that final (to Australia) wasnít a failure... Simply getting there, I would say, had been a success. But, then, what happened four years ago will become irrelevant when we start the 2007 campaign (March 17, against Bangladesh).
On whether Sourav and Zaheer Khanís comeback signalled the failure of his looking-ahead policy initiated in late 2005
If somebody looks at it that way, then the person has no idea what heís talking about. Blooding youngsters was part of the development programme and they havenít been failures... If you want to win, youíve to keep developing players... Itís a process... The one who has come under the most criticism is Suresh Raina... Well, if you look at his (ODI) record and compare it with Sachinís at the same stage in his career, you wonít find a difference... Nobody walks into international cricket as a complete product... They need opportunities... Yes, there were a few senior players who needed to be dropped for them to reassess and return stronger... They have... One of the dangers of fielding the same players match after match is that you end up with a lost generation... If some donít get opportunities at the right time, theyíre lost forever. Iím convinced that the pressure of younger players knocking on the door has been good for the older ones. I donít think we would have been in the position weíre in if we didnít do the things we did in the last 21 months. I strongly defend what weíve done... Nothing has been a failure... Everybody got opportunities for the right reasons; everybody got left out for the right reasons... If I may add, VRV Singh is as good a cricketer as Craig McDermott was when he first played for Australia... Or Merv Hughes... Or Carl Rackemaan... Nobody comes in and takes the world by storm.. If somebody does, he probably has a setback sooner rather than later... Please remember that the need to develop players never stops... A cricket team is never complete, itís a work in progress. You can only go backwards if you stop looking at it that way. Indian cricket will be stronger by what happened in the last 21 months... Much of the critical comment came with an agenda and if you only look at wins and losses, youíre missing half the story... No cricketer, after all, develops by sitting on the sidelines.
On whether he expected the 34-year-old Sourav to make such a splendid comeback
I hope he keeps improving... Even 17 months ago in Zimbabwe, he had three-fours years ahead of him but, at that point, wasnít in the right place mentally... He needed to go away and, then, come back stronger... Sourav has done that and though batsmen are at their peak from the age of 27 to 33-35, thereís no reason why his career canít go on for some time... He will only stop improving if he stops striving... He has improved his batting, his fielding, his fitness... Iíve never seen Sourav fitter... The manner of his comeback hasnít surprised me for I knew he had the ability. The question was whether he could... He had to do what he did, nobody else could have done it for him... Sourav does have a fantastic record and having somebody like him in the squad is wonderful for the balance. If we hadnít taken the decision (to drop him) when we did, I donít think he would have been back in time for the World Cup.
On Sreesanth being more effective in Test cricket
I donít know why the Media has got after him... Believe me, he can bowl in limited overs cricket, itís just that his personality is probably more suited for Tests... Sree is developing... Heís only 24, but I would rather have somebody I have to pull back than somebody whom I have to keep pushing and motivating. The Media should leave him alone... Iím not convinced he wonít play an important role for us in the World Cup. He has come through in leaps and bounds and Iíve been most pleased with his development as a person and a cricketer. Remember that heís an exceptional kid... For me, he has been a success story... Occasionally he has fallen over and weíve had to pick him up and dust him, but more often than not he has met the teamís high requirements. For him to take the occasional two steps back isnít a bad thing, for he has taken 10 forward... That he has coped so well shows character and resilience. Sree has the ability to visualise the future... Heíd been dropped for the Champions Trophy because he needed to be dropped... He needed to learn lessons and he did... (After a pause) In India, the pressure on somebody who gets dropped is enormous. Cricket, in any case, is so tough on the mind... The one sport which comes close is golf... In India, a tough sport becomes tougher for the cricketer who gets dropped... An RP Singh, for example, is a good kid... He got dropped because heís going through the process of development and will emerge stronger...
On his stand in selection committee meetings
If you hide behind statistics, then youíre going to make mistakes... That youíve got to look beyond statistics... When a bowler is up for selection, look at the opportunities he creates, not just the wickets. Look at the talent.
On whether Dravidís leadership will make a difference in the World Cup
Strong and creative leadership will be important... Teams which are led well are definitely going to do well... Heís learning all the time... By and large, Rahulís captaincy has been very good... Of course, there are times when captains run out of ideas...There have been days when weíve sat down and he has admitted he could have done a better job, but like it is for batsmen and bowlers, captains also learn from mistakes... Flexibility with bowling changes and field placements will be important in the World Cup... I have no doubt that Rahulís leadership will serve us well... Like any captain, though, heís going to be limited by how his players perform... They could, on the odd day, let him down... I believe Rahul will have to lead by example in every manner. Not just him, every captain will have to be more creative and flexible than theyíve ever been... The World Cup is going to demand that.
On his 21 months as coach
A coach, too, has limitations... It has been toughest for me... The coachís job in India is probably the biggest fish bowl of them all, but Iím glad Iíve had this experience... (After a pause) Given the amount of cricket, we may soon need separate teams and coaches for Tests and ODIs... Both need to get away from it all and reflect... To come back refreshed... A coach needs a break in order to say something different month after month... The calendar, as it is now, isnít allowing that... I doubt if Sachin could have played for 17-18 years if his career had started a year or two ago... The fast bowlersí careers will be halved from ten years... Players will burn out at 27, not 35. This Indian team is playing around 30 per cent more cricket than most (top) teams...
Finally, on whether he will continue with Team India after the World Cup
I canít say... I know as much as you probably do... Right now, Iím thinking about the World Cup.