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'Pant important for India and so is Pujara'

By HARISH KOTIAN
June 16, 2021 06:54 IST
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'Without a team nothing can happen, it takes team work or team effort to win matches.'
'Individuals can perform significantly in helping the team win, but if the rest of the guys don't chip in, there is not much an individual can do.'

IMAGE: Rishabh Pant with Cheteshwar Pujara during the fourth Test against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, January 4, 2019. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
 

Sachin Tendulkar can't wait for the first-ever ICC World Test Championship featuring India and New Zealand, which begins in Southampton from June 18.

While he believes New Zealand have that advantage of better preparations before the WTC final courtesy of their two-Test series against England, he is sure that Virat Kohli & Co will rise up to the challenge despite going into the marquee game without any match practice.

While the cricketing world has hailed Rishabh Pant's batting pyrotechnics in the last few months after he played scintillating knocks in Australia to power India to the series win, Tendulkar believes Cheteshwar Pujara has played an equally important role in the team's rise as a force in Test cricket.

In an exclusive conversation with Rediff.com's Harish Kotian, Sachin Tendulkar spells out how India's batsmen must cope with conditions in England while picking the fast bowlers for the big game.

How excited are you for the ICC WTC final?

I am excited about this match. It is going to be something different, I am looking forward to it.

When it comes to being declared as Test champion that is exciting, but I am more excited about this one particular Test match that people have been talking about.

I know we have done well and we are among the top teams in the world. To be able to participate in the final makes one feel good that India is right up there.

The WTC final will be a contest between two of the finest batsmen in the world -- Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson. What is your take on these two modern day batting greats?

Both these players are world class players. But along with them there are other players in both sides who are good players. I would say yes, these two players are at the top of their game, they have been contributing tremendously towards the team's cause.

But we must not forget the contribution of the other guys. I have always believed that there are going to be talented individuals, but without a team nothing can happen, it takes team work or team effort to win matches.

Individuals can perform significantly in helping the team win, but if the rest of the guys don't chip in, there is not much an individual can do.

You saw that in Australia, you took Virat's name but Virat wasn't there in Australia (after the first Test) and so were the other (top) players, (who were missing) from our playing XI. But we went on to win the series in Australia, so it was a clear cut team effort.

And if you see the coincidence again, just two days Kane Williamson and four other players were not there for New Zealand, (aainst England)but they also managed to win the Test match and also the series. So it is too much of a coincidence that both captains were not there and both series were won by those teams.

So that clearly states that it is a team sport. Individuals will come and go, yes they will contribute, but the team will always stay.

If the teams are performing well together as a unit, then they will continue winning.

It is about the team and these two players (Williamson and Kohli) are the pillars of the team and they will play a big role in taking the team forward.

IMAGE: Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Photograph: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Batting has been traditionally India's big strength but the pace bowling attack has emerged big time and a lot of world class fast bowlers have emerged on the scene.
Who would be your choice of pacers be for the WTC final if India play three or four seamers because it won't be an easy choice with such talented names to choose from?

I don't normally talk about selection because sitting here (in Mumbai) I don't know how the bowlers are bowling and which bowler is in good rhythm, I haven't seen them bowl at all.

If we are going ahead with three fast bowlers then my pick would be Bumrah, Shami and either Siraj or Ishant.

You played a lot of cricket in England. You must have seen Trent Boult in the IPL, while you have played against Tim Southee and both of these are capable of making of the most new ball in conditions in England.
How should the openers bat against the pacers early on because the conditions change pretty quickly depending on the weather?

You are absolutely right because the conditions change pretty quickly and something that one has to be wary of is the overhead conditions more than anything else.

If overhead there is a cloud cover and if there is heaviness in the atmosphere then the ball is going to move around a bit so you need to understand what is going to happen off the surface, who is bowling, whether the ball is swinging in the air or off the pitch and when the sun is out you can press the accelerator hard again.

It is like driving a car. If there is a traffic light which is showing a red signal you stop the car and put it in neutral and when you get the green signal, you slowly change the gears and put the car in the top gear.

So it is important to understand overhead conditions and then plan accordingly and see which way the wind is bowling, all those factors count.

If you take those things into consideration, then half the problems are solved.

India didn't have any practice first class games against local teams heading into the WTC final. Will that be a handicap because New Zealand have played two Test matches?

I believe the New Zealand series was planned long time ago. The ICC announces the schedule for all teams well in advance and it was by some coincidence that New Zealand got to play two Test matches before the WTC final.

Yes, New Zealand will have that advantage of better preparations before the WTC final, but I think these are the challenges you face.

One has to look at the next step and not at the last step. Whatever best we could have done we have done that as far as preparations are concerned, so I would look at the next steps and not at the last step and see how best we can utilise whatever facilities have been provided and prepare to the best of our abilities rather than cribbing about not getting match practice.

I think the players have travelled with the Indian Test squad to England or with India 'A' teams so all the players have played in those conditions. So it is not that they are going there for the first time and they don't understand the conditions at all, they have played in English conditions before.

Do you enjoy watching Rishabh Pant bat because he entertains whenever he is out in the middle?

I have always enjoyed his batting and his ability to hit the ball. He is a different kind of a player and in a team like this you need different kind of players.

I would compare Rishabh with Pujara in a way that if I have to talk about these two players separately, then one is an attacking player and the other is a solid backbone of the team, who stabilises the innings upfront, and tires the opposition out.

Pujara's method of scoring runs or the manner of his dismissals, they are going to be different shots as compared to Rishabh.

If we understand both of them, then we will appreciate both of them because Rishabh is important for Team India and so is Pujara, and all these players put together will make a solid team.

I thoroughly enjoy watching both Pujara, who is a classic example of how one should play Test cricket, and Pant, who by nature is an attacking player and likes to express himself and plays his shots.

To me Test cricket is both sides, one is what Pujara shows to us, that is also Test cricket and one is what Rishabh Pant shows to us, that is also a different form of Test cricket and I enjoy watching both of them.

IMAGE: New Zealand Captain Kane Williamson with his team-mates. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja have been quite consistent with the ball and also made vital contributions with the bat. How difficult a choice will it be to pick one among in the WTC final?

You have kind of answered my question.

We have three options here, we don't know how the wicket is going to play. We don't know how much the groundsman has watered the wicket and how much grass is there on the surface.

So there are three options. One is to play with six batters, three fast bowlers and one spinner.

The second option is to play four fast bowlers and one spinner and the last option is to play three fast bowlers and two spinners.

The advantage here is that our bowlers can bat well and build some decent partnerships. It is quite wide open and I leave that decision to the team management because they will see the wicket and they will analyse the conditions and pick the squad accordingly.

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