'I am not bothered about individual records'
Suresh Raina cannot hide his excitement over making it to India's World Cup squad. Not there was any doubt about his inclusion, but the pain of having missed the last edition of the tournament, in 2007, is still evident.
In this World Cup, though, he will be an integral part of the batting line-up as India looks to regain the crown Kapil Dev's men won in 1983.
Boosted by the support of home fans, Raina is confident India can play to potential and win the coveted title. The 24-year-old is a vital cog in India's scheme of things because of his ability to change the course of a match with his big hitting. He is a useful part-time bowler too, while his fielding makes him indispensable.
The young left-hander reveals his excitement and role in the team as he looks forward to the World Cup in an exclusive conversation with Senior Associate Editor Harish Kotian.
This is your first 50-overs World Cup. How excited are you heading into the tournament?
I am very excited that by the grace of god that I made it to the final 15. I am very happy to be a part of the World Cup. I know I am going to play all the matches and this is the World Cup which is going to be good for every Indian. We are playing the World Cup at home, so we will get a lot of support; there is belief from our fans. I will just look to enjoy during the World Cup and give my 200 percent for the side and win a lot of matches for Team India.
Would you say India's preparations for the World Cup have been ideal? India played a very tough series in South Africa. Did that help?
Yes, that was a very good tour for us. We drew the Test series in South Africa, which has never happened before in Indian cricket. We fought really well in the ODI series and we won the Twenty20 match also. We have the players who can change the game at any point of time. We all are excited about the World Cup.
Image: Suresh Raina
'Maybe I haven't scored many fifties'
Are you are under pressure heading into the World Cup? You haven't played a big innings in 2010, just one half-century in your last 21 innings.
Yes. But you got to remember that I bat at number six and most of the times get to bat very late in the innings. I have been batting there for last two-three years and I have played a few good knocks.
When you bat at number six or seven, most of the time you come in to bat around the 38th or 40th over and you have to get on straight with the task of getting the big hits, especially in the Powerplay overs.
I am not saying I didn't score runs; maybe I haven't scored many fifties, but if you check the record I have hit a few quick 30s or 40s in the final overs. So, as long as the team is winning and I am playing a part in it, I think I should not be bothered about my individual records.
With the Batting Powerplay normally taken after the 40th over, the task of a number six or seven batsman becomes that much difficult, as they start hitting from ball one. How do you look at your role in the side?
The Batting Powerplays are very important overs and all teams look get the most out of it towards the closing stages.
Our team has done really well in the Powerplay overs, but, on a few occasions, we have also thrown our wickets away. So we have to make sure that we don't lose many wickets in the Powerplay overs, because then we can cause maximum damage.
We have a batting order that is capable of destroying any bowling attack in the world; it is just that we must have wickets in hands towards the final overs.
Image: Suresh Raina
'India is definitely one of the favourites'
Talking from experience, what do you think is the ideal time to take the Batting Powerplay?
It depends on the start that we get, the opposition that we are facing and also the conditions. The way we bat it is like a Powerplay for the full 50 overs if our batsmen get going.
I feel our batting line-up is best equipped to tackle the fielding restrictions, because we have so many big hitters in our line-up with guys like me, Dhoni and Pathan coming lower in the order. If we have a good run of five overs during the Powerplay, we can definitely turn a match or take the match away from the opposition.
Would you say that this Indian team is the favourite heading into the World Cup?
India is definitely one of the favourites, but there are quite a few top sides who are also favourites to win the World Cup.
Firstly, we must make sure that we reach the semi-finals, because then I believe no one can stop us. So it is important to play consistent cricket in the group stages and get a momentum heading into the knock-out rounds.
India went in as one of the favourites in the last World Cup but failed to go past the first round? How will the team try to guard against that in this tournament?
It is very important to stay positive and not think about the past. And in an important tournament like the World Cup you cannot take any opposition lightly. You have to start really well and also look to finish well.
It is very important to believe in yourself and in your team-mates. You must try and give more than 100 percent when you come out in the middle in every game. You must look to play your natural game and back yourself in any situation that you come across, because if you start having doubts then it affects you out in the middle.
Image: Suresh Raina
'I don't think this will be Sachin Tendulkar's last World Cup'
The Indian team has enjoyed a good run in ODIs in the last two years, both at home and away. What role has the seniors played, because we have seen a lot of youngsters coming through into the Indian ODI squad?
The senior players have been excellent and they have helped the youngsters a lot. The dressing room atmosphere is fantastic and we enjoy each other's success, which has helped the team gel together and perform as a single unit. We have a very good coach in Gary Kirsten, who looks after the needs of every player.
The players also know what the coach expects from them. We know what type of performance he is looking for from each of us, whether in ODIs or Test matches. He has taught us to stay disciplined, stay humble and always encouraged us to play our natural game.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has got a lot of flak recently for his poor run with the bat. But, purely as a captain, how much does he contribute to the side?
He is excellent as a captain ever since he took over the side. Dhoni has been able to get the best out of his players because he is a great motivator. I don't think he's been out of form; he has contributed with the bat according to the situation.
People just look at the number of runs he has scored, but when you lower in the order, most of the time you don't get a chance to score a century or a fifty. A quick 30 or 40 batting at number six is also very important.
This could be Sachin Tendulkar and Gary Kirsten's last World Cup. Does that give this team extra motivation to win the Cup for both of them?
I don't think this will be Sachin Tendulkar's last World Cup. I am sure he will play one more World Cup. No one knows how fit a cricketer he is because he works so hard on his cricket and he is definitely capable of playing another World Cup.
He will definitely play a major role in this World Cup, but at the same time we have 14 other players who have done really well in the last couple of years and made it to the World Cup.
Image: Suresh Raina
'I will definitely miss Gary Kirsten'
But this is definitely Kirsten's last assignment as India's coach? How do you rate his contribution to Indian cricket?
He was very outstanding and the key man in our successful run in the last two years.
Under him we won a lot of Test and ODI series outside the country, and if you check the rankings we are number one in Tests and number two in ODIs. So that proves what a good coach he is.
He always takes positives from a situation, never likes to talk about negatives. And whenever anyone has a problem, Gary is always ready with a solution.
The most important thing he has told the young players is that when you become a great player you must know how to handle your personal life and fame. You must definitely become a better player, but you must also become a good human being, he says.
Will you miss Kirsten?
I will definitely miss Gary; I am sure the whole team will miss him.
He was like a guardian for the whole team and one of the greatest coach India has ever had.
Image: Suresh Raina