As India gears up for the very first World Test championship final, most are tagging them as the underdogs to the Kiwi side which has the advantage of conditions less alien to them, and two matches under their belt in England just before the winner-takes-all final. Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar though believes that none of this would matter much.
Speaking to CNN News18, the master blaster felt what comes next is more important than what has already happened and that’s where India’s focus should be.
“I don’t agree that India are the underdogs. We have played some terrific cricket to get here. Take Australia tour’s example, almost 10-11 players were not available and the guys who were on the bench were asked to play. Couple of them were actually practice bowlers, they ended up playing and they delivered.
“That speaks volumes of our bench strength. How we’ve been able to deliver that knockout bunch in Brisbane has been truly remarkable. So, by no means I would say we are underdogs. Yes, we haven’t had enough match practice. New Zealand have had the best preparation possible with a two-test series (in England) before this game. But that’s how the game is and we have to accept what has come. I would focus on what we need to do next and not what people have been thinking because I don’t think that’s right."
He even went to say that if batsmen focus and play a tight game, even the pitch conditions should not be a bigger concern for India, more than that to the Kiwis. Responding to reports that the pitch could have bounce and carry, Sachin said, “If I was asked to play on a pitch that has bounce and pace, I would feel that good length space has been reduced for fast bowlers.
“If they falter on the shorter side, I would get under the ball and play maybe over slips or gully or over point. And if they falter on the fuller side, then I have the chance to play them on the rise. I would say when it starts swinging and seaming around that’s when the problem is and that’s a problem for any side.
“Pace and bounce would mean more opportunity to score runs. We need to be on our toes for seam and swing."
Sharing what he thinks will be key for a win in a one-off match, Sachin said, “Before the game there is anxiety and people talking about the game, that buzz is there. Pressure builds when there is a lot of talk going around. But you need to stay calm and give yourself some time.
“Because it is important to make yourself comfortable in the middle. Bowlers will start bowling well when they are comfortable, same with the batsmen. The 22-yard should belong to you. That doesn’t happen instantly, so give yourself some time to adjust. Due to pandemic, the preparations have been different for our team, so give yourself some more time.’
One advantage for India certainly is the variety and options in the bowling line up which Tendulkar appreciated as being extremely complimentary to each other. It is the kind of talent India has rarely seen as part of one crop of bowlers.
“I don’t like comparing generations. We have had some great bowlers in the past. With this generation the difference is they are all playing together at the same time. They all compliment each other. Ishant Sharma is tall, Bumrah is awkward, Mohd Shami is skiddy. We’ve got Umesh and Siraj too.
“We have a variety of bowlers. They are different and when you put them together, they are formidable attack. They have been able to deliver. They have been able to work together as unit. Bharat Arun has been their coach for few years and he has delivered. He has done a wonderful job."
Sachin seemed to agree with the sense that is emerging that India is likely to play both Ashwin and Jadeja as specialist spinners. The two have experience in England and have had decent batting partnerships too, which Sachin felt could be invaluable.
“The advantage is both the spinners bat well and they can build some serious partnerships. Lower down the order every run matters. Those runs are invaluable.
“In India spinners get purchase off the surface. But In conditions like England, if the ball is well maintained, spinners can get the ball to drift either away from the batter or towards the batter. This is not just with the off-spinner but also with left-arm spinner. It depends on how you use the shine. For any quality spinner, you give them the ball and he is sure to utilise what is there in the air. There is not much purchase off the surface.
“But it’s not that an off-spinner has to get a batter out inside edge caught at short leg, he could always drift the ball away from a right hander and get him out at slips. It is the case with left-arm spinner too I would say. So may be 3 (fast bowlers) and 2 (spinners) wouldn’t be a bad option. But I haven’t seen the pitch. I don’t know how the pitch has been watered. Let’s wait and see.’
Overall Sachin Tendulkar felt the start is going to be key in this match. “A good start, whether you bowl or bat will be key. The first session will lay the foundation and over that you will construct over the next 5 days. So, the first session would be critical."