Former cricketers place India as firm favourites

Mumbai: A day after India vanquished Pakistan in an emotionally-charged World Cup semifinal, top yesteryear cricketers exuded confidence that the Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his men would end the 28-year-old jinx to lift the coveted trophy on April 2 here.

Disciplined bowling and a fortune-tinged 85 by Sachin Tendulkar saw India beat Pakistan by 29 runs at the Punjab Cricket Association (PAC) stadium in Mohali last night to set-up a summit clash against co-hosts Sri Lanka at the Wankhede Stadium here.

"The way they are playing, India will definitely beat Sri Lanka. I will make it 60:40 in India`s favour," said Dilip Vengsarkar, former captain, ex-chief selector and member of the 1983 World Cup winning team led by Kapil Dev. "I feel India have the edge over Sri Lanka. As you have seen the Indian side is improving match by match. The victory over Pakistan, I think, is more difficult than playing against Sri Lanka. We have crossed the stiffest hurdle, stiffer than (four-time winners) Australia," said former Test left-arm
spinner Bapu Nadkarni.

India had defeated the Australian side led by Ricky Ponting by five wickets at Ahmedabad in the quarterfinal on March 24. "I have been saying it for some time now even before the team went to South Africa (last November) that we should win the World Cup," said former Test skipper Nari Contractor who, however, feels the batting has not performed to its potential.

"Our batting has still not clicked fully, not performed to its potential despite having got great starts. Yesterday too (against Pakistan) the start was good but the team could not capitalise on it. If the batting fulfills its potential, Sri Lanka would have no chance," he said.

Former middle-order Test batting mainstay and ex-chief selector Chandu Borde, who was on the selection panel that picked the 1983 Cup-winning squad, also gave India a slight edge over the Lankans because of home advantage.

"I suppose playing at home will be to our advantage over Sri Lanka, but you cannot take them lightly. They were one of the pre-tournament contenders for the Cup. These two teams have come through trial by fire, winning some and losing some matches to reach the final. Both the teams would be mentally and physically well prepared," he said.

About yesterday`s high-octane clash against the arch-foes, won by India by 29 runs after Shahid Afridi`s men fell short of the 261-run target set by the home team, Vengsarkar said he expected a closer match while anticipating an Indian victory. "I knew India will win but I thought it would be tighter finish. The team that handled pressure better won and India handled it really well while Pakistan struggled. They also dropped a lot of catches. We also bowled really well," he pointed out.

Vengsarkar was also full of praise for young Suresh Raina, whose crucial 39-ball 36 towards the end brought India back into the game after the dismissal of skipper Dhoni. "I was very impressed by the way Raina played. He batted exceptionally well at a very crucial stage. It was very, very important that he stayed till the end for the total India raised," gushed the batsman, who has played in over a 100 Tests.

Asked about what composition the team should go in with against the Lankans, who are also striving to clinch their second world crown after the 1996 heroics by Arjuna Ranatunga`s men, Vengsarkar said it depends on the type of wicket that will be provided for the summit clash.

"It will depend on the wicket, but I expect the Wankhede wicket to provide equal opportunity for both batsmen and bowlers. It`s the best wicket in India," he stated. Vengsarkar also added that nothing would be better than batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar, who scored a chancy 85 in yesterday`s semifinal to receive the man of the match award, getting to the pioneering landmark of 100 international tons and India winning the Cup on Saturday.

"If he gets his 100th (international) 100 at Wankhede and India wins the final, it will be perfect icing on the cake and will be the greatest day for the greatest cricketer India has produced," Vengsarkar remarked. The iconic player has scored 51 Test hundreds and 48 in ODIs, including two earlier in the tournament against England and South Africa.

Nadkarni also expected a closer match against Pakistan and also took the opportunity to slam 1983 Cup-winning skipper Kapil Dev for his disparaging comments about Dhoni`s team before the knock out rounds. "I was expecting a very close match. This game is funny. People were saying the Indian bowling and fielding are its weak links but yesterday they bowled and fielded brilliantly. And Kapil saying India will not make the semi finals is not sign of maturity on his part," he said.

While conceding Tendulkar`s innings as not really up to his lofty standards, Nadkarni felt the great batsman would find his feet in the final.

"Yesterdays` knock of Sachin is one of the worst I have seen him play. But he`s a great player and would come out of it," said the former Test cricketer about the champion batsman`s scratchy innings in which he gave four `lives` and was also saved by the Decision Review System early on. Borde praised the team`s bowlers and fielders and said their show was the key to the victory over Pakistan, India`s fifth in as many Cup ties.

"The performance of the Indian team yesterday was because of the controlled bowling exhibited by all the bowlers which was well supported by the fielders. That was the key to our victory over Pakistan. The bowling has improved as they are concentrating more on line and length.

"I`m sure the practice put in and the discussions that have taken place are responsible. It was also a spending team effort if you see the scorecard as each bowler has got one or two wickets.”

"I am also happy with the way the team has learned to get over its deficiencies in such a short period of time. They were also as cool as Dhoni. If you are cool and calm, you can exhibit better control," Borde added. Borde was of the opinion that Tendulkar, who would be 38 on April 24, looked a bit unsettled for the first time in his glittering 22-year-old international career, but was confident it will be put behind.

"Yesterday he did not look comfortable. I have not seen Tendulkar looking so uncomfortable. He is such a great player, I`m sure he will be seen at his best in the final," he said.

Contractor brushed aside suggestions that the emotion-filled match against Pakistan could be a handicap for India ahead of the summit clash against Sri Lanka.

"I don`t think the match against Pakistan was any more draining than any other match. There is time to recover (before the final)." He also noted the differences between the team led by Rahul Dravid four years ago that made an inglorious exit from the mega-event in the first round in the West Indies and the current side. "Last time we did not have this settled opening pair. Sachin was struggling with injuries and Yuvraj (Singh) too. (The) team was also short of match practice. Now everyone has got into his groove," he observed.

PTI

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