Sachin ‘The Master’ Tendulkar, cricket’s mascot for years and the only batsman to register 100 International 100s, spoke to The Telegraph on Wednesday afternoon.
Owing to paucity of time, the questions for the former India captain were limited exclusively to the upcoming World Cup, in England & Wales.
Sachin appeared in a record-equalling six World Cups and is credited with the following: Most runs (2278), most runs in a single edition (673 in 2003), most 100s (6), most 50s (15).
Q Master... Let’s go straight to the semi-finals... Even without a ball being bowled in the 2019 World Cup, the four teams most likely to make the grade...
A India, England, Australia and I have a feeling either New Zealand or Pakistan. I haven’t, of course, studied all 10 teams minutely but the first three I’ve mentioned appear certainties.
Q Is this going to be the most open World Cup?
A To a certain degree, yes. That’s because even if you have one bad day, you can still come back in the tournament (unlike in 2007).
Q India’s strengths...
A The overall balance of the squad is good... A strong batting line-up, quality fast bowlers and quality spinners. We have the firepower to deliver the punch. It’s about getting it right over the course of the game.
Q Isn’t the No.4 position a worry for you?
Q Is Mahendra Singh Dhoni the one best suited for that critical position?
A I’d prefer that Dhoni is slotted at No.5.
Q Who is your pick for No.4?
A It wouldn’t be proper for me to offer a suggestion. I’m in Mumbai, while the boys have already reached England.
Q Won’t captain Virat Kohli be under enormous pressure?
A Pressure will be on everyone, not just Virat. When you wear the India cap, there are both certain responsibilities and definite expectations... Each time I wore the cap, I knew I just had to give off my best.
Q But the World Cup is unlike other tournaments...
A Yes, but you’re still representing the country. Your passion and everything which goes with it has to be the same on each occasion that you play.
Q How should the players handle pressure?
A It’s a fact that the World Cup comes every four years, a lot more people follow the tournament and fans at home and abroad have a high degree of anxiety. The players, however, should only look to perform at their best. The rest of the things are for people at large.
Q Dhoni (who turns 38 two days before the first semi-final) will be appearing in his fourth World Cup. His presence should take some of the pressure off Virat...
A Without any doubt... The best position to captain from is that of a wicket-keeper and while Dhoni is no longer leading, he has loads of experience as captain. Dhoni will, for example, be in the best position to judge the angles and read the pace off the wicket. That would be handy for Virat. It would help Dhoni too when he’s batting.
Q You played with Dhoni for almost 10 years. What is it that he actually brings to the table?
A Dhoni’s peripheral awareness is outstanding... He’s aware of situations and can stay calm and do the simple things required to be done.
Q What would be a challenge for Virat and his men?
A The World Cup begins on May 30 and runs till July 14, so it’s a long tournament. Staying fresh physically and mentally is going to be a challenge.
Q Advice for staying fresh in the mind?
A Sometimes, it’s important to get away from the game, to switch off before again focusing on cricket. There are individual requirements, but to switch off is a team thing as well... It’s also important when to practise and how much to practise.
Q In the 2003 final, you ended up on the losing side in Johannesburg... Eight years later, at home, the script played out very differently. What does it take to win a World Cup?
A In simple terms, doing the basics right... The world knows (Dale) Steyn bowls a lethal outswinger, but batsmen still make mistakes... It was known that (Muttiah) Muralidharan had such an effective off-spinner, yet batsmen erred... Mistakes, therefore, do get made. If the basics are executed correctly, then the errors are minimised.
Q Talking of basics, what is most important for batsmen and bowlers?
A Balance, which is two-fold... Bowlers need to have the balance right at the point of release, batsmen while playing shots... Then, both need to work out the balance between aggression and pulling back and waiting for the moment to get aggressive... You need to have that balance in the mind.
Q Many regard Eoin Morgan’s England as the favourites. Your take on the hosts?
A England have a balanced squad and bat really deep. It’s a good batting line-up.
Q Could Afghanistan spring a surprise?
A One or two of the big teams could get surprised. Afghanistan have wicket-taking bowlers, especially in the middle overs. It’s a good attack.
Q Lastly... Given that the World Cup begins in May, will it be dominated by batsmen or would bowlers be able to hold their own?
A (Laughs) It will be a batsman’s World Cup! In the past few weeks, England’s batsmen touched at least 340 four matches in a row and Pakistan got to 361 for seven in a losing cause. Nowadays, while chasing, it’s not rare for a team to go beyond 350 with some overs to spare... The West Indies, batting first, got over 380 against Ireland earlier this month... Flat wickets and new white balls at both ends have made it a very different ball game for the bowlers from the 2011-2012 season... Today, there’s just no reverse swing... Clearly, the change in the playing conditions for ODIs has challenged the bowlers, with the average scores soaring in the last seven-eight years.
Virat Kohli on arrival in London on Wednesday. (AP)