India have the combination to lift their first ODI World Cup trophy in 28 years but the form of temperamental batsman Yuvraj Singh and explosive all-rounder Yusuf Pathan will prove decisive, says 1983 World Cup winning team’s member Dilip Vengsarkar.
Vengsarkar feels the team under Mahendra Singh Dhoni has the credentials to go all the way in the event commencing February 19 in the sub-continent.
“India is numero uno at present. It’s one of the best teams in world cricket at present. India will be playing at home and that’s a huge advantage. Unlike the team of 1983, India has been the number one team for the last four years or so and are the strong favourites to win the World Cup. We had a similar sort of combination in 1987 but failed in the semis,” Vengsarkar told reporters.
Asked about the x-factor in the team, he said it could be either Yuvraj or Pathan, both powerful hitters of the ball.
“It will be either Yuvraj or Yusuf Pathan,” he said.
Vengsarkar, a former chairman of the selection panel, said the Indian batting line-up has a settled look with a combination of youth and experience.
“We have a very strong batting line up with (Virender) Sehwag, (Sachin) Tendulkar, (Gautam) Gambhir, Yuvraj (Singh), Yusuf (Pathan) all in great form,” he said.
Vengsarkar felt the wickets at this time of the year would help India’s slow bowlers in the middle overs.
“They will be drier in the month of March and that will surely help Indian spinners in the middle overs,” he said.
Vengsarkar also tipped holders Australia, who have slid steeply down the Test ranks, Sri Lanka and South Africa to make the last four in cricket’s showpiece.
“India, Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa,” he said when asked who will make it to the semifinals.
Looking back at the 1983 World Cup triumph, Vengsarkar said the turning point of the campaign by Kapil’s Devils that ended with the epoch-making 43-run shock victory over then defending champions West Indies in the summit clash of the World Cup was the peaking of the squad at the most opportune time.
“I guess India peaked at the right time. Surely, the win in the first game versus the West Indies (was crucial) and the form of every batsman and bowler was important to beat the
Australians and England later to reach the final. It got the team into the winning mode,” said the former India captain.
Kapil Dev and his men turned the formbook upside down by defeating the mighty Clive Lloyd-led West Indies twice in three encounters during the mega event in England, including
in the final on June 25 at the Lord’s to usher in a new era in Indian cricket.
Vengsarkar was badly injured during the campaign when the fastest member of the fearsome West Indian pace battery, the late Malcolm Marshall, struck him on his chin for which he needed seven stitches ruling him out till the semi-final.
The 54-year-old former batsman felt the victory over the seemingly invincible West Indies of those days at Berbice in Guyana when India visited the Caribbean for a full tour prior to the Cup, was also crucial as it broke the myth that Lloyd’s Tigers were unbeatable.
“It (win by 34 runs at Old Trafford) gave us a lot of confidence to beat the best in the business in the opener. The strategy to bat first and put the strong West Indies batting
line up under pressure worked, for they look vulnerable when put under pressure.”
“In one-dayers, it is important to play well on the particular day, for a team however good it is, if it plays badly, does not get another chance to come back into the game. Of course, the win at Berbice was crucial as myth of the West Indians being invincible was dispelled.”
West Indies were the top team in world cricket in both Tests and ODIs at that time while Australia and England were also tipped for the title. Vengsarkar said the Indians were
the dark horses.
“Well, the West Indies were the best team in world cricket then and they were dominating both forms of the game. The Australians and England too were very good and were tipped
to win the World Cup. As far as India was concerned, we were the dark horses,” said Vengsarkar, who played 116 Tests and 129 ODIs, including in three World Cup campaigns.
“Kapil was outstanding. He was at the peak of his career. Besides Kapil, we had batsmen who could bowl effectively in English conditions, as most of them had been playing in Club
cricket in the UK for many years. The new ball attack had Kapil, Balwinder Sandhu, Madan Lal and Roger Binny besides Mohinder Amarnath with his slow-medium cutters.
“They used the conditions splendidly. Mohinder and Kirti Azad too bowled well when asked to and gave crucial breakthroughs,” said Vengsarkar when queried about the critical element in the team’s victory surge.
“Kapil was new to captaincy but overall did very well to lead from the front. Being in such a great form helped him as well,” Vengsarkar pointed out.
The format for the eight-team event - in which each team played every other in its group twice in the league leading to the semis - was also good for all the teams for making a
comeback in the competition after a loss, Vengsarkar felt.
“Not only India but it helped every team, for if a team faltered in one match, it had the chance to come back into the competition,” he said to a question whether the Indians
benefited from the format.
Recalling the chin injury against Marshall in the return clash against the West Indies at The Oval, which India lost by 66 runs, Vengsarkar said the setback forced him to miss one of the defining moments of the Cup campaign three days later at Tunbridge Wells.
“It was disappointing, for I was playing well at the time I was hit on the chin by a Marshall delivery and had to retire. The players who replaced me gave a very good account of themselves and though I was fit for the final it was on the cards that the winning combination would play and rightly so,” he said.
He said Kapil’s unforgettable 175 not out against minnows Zimbabwe, which he missed as he had been advised complete rest, should be counted as the best knock in the competition
in the context of the situation as India were deep in the hole at 17-5 and recovered to make 266-8 before winning by 31 runs.
“Without a doubt. Unfortunately I did not travel with the team as I had seven stitches on my chin and the doctors in London had advised me complete rest,” Vengsarkar said.
“It must be one of the greatest knocks ever played in the history of one-day cricket. Later he came out and bowled 12 effective overs to win the game for India,” he recalled.