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'Time Tendulkar returns as opener'
January 27, 2003
Praveen Amre was fortunate to be part of the Indian team that first toured South Africa in 1993, after the country was welcomed back to the international fold in 1991. And he justified his selection with an impressive showing on the tour, which included a Test century on debut. Till then little was known about the pitches there. All that one knew was that they were hard and pacy.
That success prompted Amre to return to South Africa in 1999. This time to represent Boland in the domestic league. With his immense knowledge of the local conditions, and the World Cup, in mind, Ashish Magotra spoke with the Mumbai batsman to get some inside information on what the Indian team could expect at this time of the year in the upcoming tournament .
Will India's disastrous tour of New Zealand have any bearing on the World Cup?
It should not. The ball was swinging a lot in New Zealand. Even the New Zealand batsmen struggled. We need to forget what has happened. In the recent past India has performed well and I see that continuing in South Africa. The World Cup starts in February and the domestic season in South Africa is getting over. The wickets are no longer as fresh as they usually are at the start of a season. They have kind of flattened out. They will offer bounce, but it will not be alarming at any rate.
You have played on most grounds in South Africa, tell us something about the venues that host India's matches in the World Cup...
Boland Park, Paarl: A good place for India to start their campaign. A sizeable Indian population will ensure good support for them. The ball should not swing a lot and there will be bounce in the wicket. But, then, all the wickets in South Africa will afford bounce.
Centurion Park: India plays two matches here. It has one of the quickest outfields in South Africa, ideal for the strokemakers. The best ground that India will be playing on during the first round. The matches should be high-scoring despite the fact that the ball seams around it. The match against Australia will also help India immensely for the match against Pakistan.
Durban: A huge Indian population will give the team all the support they need. Proximity to the sea means the ball moves a lot in the air, off the wicket and bowlers get steep bounce too. Sanjay Bangar and Sourav Ganguly should bowl well here. The batsmen will need to make adjustments to their technique.
Harare: The only wicket that might actually assist the spinners a bit. The wicket is whiteish, bare and should play host to a high-scoring encounter. The only match where India could play two spinners.
Pietermaritzburg Oval: The ball should nip around quite a bit. Batting will be quite a challenge against a Test-playing nation. (India play Namibia at Pietermaritzburg).
When you last toured South Africa, the team seemed to struggle batting second under the lights; the South African players seemed to be able to swing the ball a lot more than their Indian counterparts. Is it more difficult batting under the lights?
When I last toured, the lights in all the stadiums were not very good. They were particularly bad in East London. And, also, in the evening, the wind makes the ball swing. The breeze starts to flow across the stadium, assists the bowlers.
Do you see any new trends emerging in the World Cup?
On the contrary, I see teams looking to preserve their wickets in first fifteen overs and then going all out in the slog overs. But I would also like to see Sachin Tendulkar open the innings. He is the best batsman in the team and is very experienced. Plus, now the team is not solely dependent upon him to score the runs. All the top batsman have contributed to victories in the past. So all that talk of trying to protect Tendulkar just does not hold. This will be Tendulkar's fourth World Cup and he will have realised that it might be his last. Every match will be important. He has scored most of his centuries at the top order... I think it's time he moved back to the opener's slot.
In South Africa, you cannot graft. You have to play positively, you have to play your shots. And India will be best served with Tendulkar at the top of the order. Once the fifteen overs are finished, it will be difficult to hit boundaries; and more than the fours, it's the singles that will make the difference. Unlike the subcontinent were the bowlers are at the mercy of the batsmen, here even one bowler can make a difference to the outcome of the match.
So what do you think is the correct line/length to bowl in South Africa?
While in most countires, a line just outside the off-stump would be perfect. In South Africa, where the ball will do a bit off the seam, you need to bowl on the off-stump at around three-quarters length.
Who do you see as the favourites?
You can never discount home advantage. South Africa will definitely be one of the favourites. Zimbabwe also play their matches at home. Against the Test-playing nations no match is easy. Australia are the favourites. But it's all a game of confidence. The frame of mind that you come into the game in is very important. Australia is riding a wave of confidence and looks tough to beat.
In fact, the only team Australia will be worried about will be India. India is the only team that has the batsmen who can turn the game on its head at any time. But at the same time, India is inconsistent. And therein, lies the main difference between Australia and the rest of the teams.
This will be a World Cup for specialists. The time for experiments is now past.
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