In conversation with Krishnamachari Srikkanth, Mustafa Kamal and Pragyan Ojha
In this second edition of OPEN WORLD CUP CONVERSATIONS, BORIA MAJUMDAR catches up with BCB President and key ICC functionary MUSTAFA KAMAL, currently in Sri Lanka to study the organisational challenges facing the 2012 T20 world cup. Kamal is the man in charge of organising the 2014 T20 world cup in Bangladesh. PRAGYAN OJHA, new spin twin to Ravi Ashwin, speaks about bowling in tandem, while Chairman of selectors KRISHNAMACHARI SRIKKANTH looks back at his tenure, the highs and lows, and assesses India’s chances at this T20 world cup
‘Winning the World Cup of 2011 was the highest point of my tenure. Without doubt Indian cricket is in safe hands’
You have just signed off as Chairman of Selectors. It has indeed been an eventful tenure, winning World Cup 2011, getting to the No. 1 position in Test cricket and then the stinging 8 Test defeats overseas. How do you look back at your tenure?
Kris Srikkanth: I look back with a lot of satisfaction. Winning the World Cup will always be the highest point. We hadn’t won a World Cup in 28 years and then to win it on home soil was a national fairytale. For me it was huge because I had won the World Cup as a player. And now to see the team I had selected win the trophy at home was incredible. Also, I must say to be at the top of Test cricket for 20 long months was a great achievement. I am not trying to justify the Test defeats overseas, but I am certain Indian cricket will soon make a comeback. We have a serious pool of talent and results will come sooner than later. Even in Australia and England we had our opportunities. The Melbourne Test could have gone either way till the very last day and at Trentbridge we had them on the mat before we let the opportunity slip. I am not trying to give excuses, but it is also important not to be over critical. We have some very good players in the mix and will soon start getting results in the Test realm as well.
Several greats have left the game in the past few years. Do you think you have groomed enough youngsters to take on the mantle? These are difficult shoes to fill, no doubt.
KS: Yes they are. You don’t produce a Rahul Dravid or a VVS Laxman or an Anil Kumble overnight. But we have ensured we have a good balance of experience and youth in all formats of the game. For example, not many had given Virat Kohli a chance as a Test batsman. See where he is today. Similarly, we have Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and a host of other talented youngsters. In bowling, Ashwin and Ojha are doing really well. Harbhajan has made a comeback in T20 cricket and Umesh Yadav has really done well for India overseas. Varun Aaron too is a very good bowler, so is Praveen Kumar. All I am saying is we have very good talent in our backyard. We just need to be a little more patient with them and results will be there for all to see.
How do you rate India’s chances in the T20 world cup? We do have some very good T20 players in the mix, but have underperformed in the last two editions of the world cup in England in 2009 and the Caribbean in 2010.
KS: I think we have a very good chance. We have a team, which is a perfect blend of experience and youth. We have some explosive batsmen in the team and some very capable bowlers in the mix. This is definitely the best T20 team we could have selected and I am confident it will do very well in Sri Lanka. I am delighted Yuvraj has made a comeback and he is now a role model for every budding sportsperson in India and abroad. Indian cricket, I am confident, is in safe hands.
So what is Kris Srikkanth’s legacy as Chairman of Selectors?
KS: Clearly the 2011 World Cup win, achieving the number one position in Test cricket, giving opportunities to as many youngsters as possible. Some of them have already grabbed their chances and moved on while some others need a few more opportunities. Trying to establish a good many players in each department so that the talent pool is never bare and finally strengthening the well-established system nurtured by the BCCI. It was great to be Chairman of the Selection Committee and I was always aware of the responsibilities that came with the job. I can promise you I have always tried to do my job to the very best of my ability for India.
‘The challenge before an administrator is to overcome all possible obstacles and stage an event that fans will love to watch’
You and your team have been in Sri Lanka looking at the challenges confronting the organisers. Is it a field trip before you stage the world cup at home in Dhaka in 2014?
Mustafa Kamal: You can say that. The attempt is to try and be perfect, which never happens. While I am proud of the way Bangladesh organised the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, there is always an opportunity to improve upon past performance. IMG rated the 2011 opening ceremony the second best event across all sporting disciplines in the world. While it is a great achievement, I want to ensure we leave no stone unturned in making the T20 world cup 2014 an even bigger success.
It has been a very good year for Bangladesh cricket so far. You made the final of the Asia Cup at the expense of India and Sri Lanka. In fact, Bangladesh spoilt Sachin Tendulkar’s hundredth 100 party in Dhaka. How do you see your team’s chances in Sri Lanka?
MK: Bangladesh has a very good T20 team. Tamim Iqbal at the top of the order and Shakib-al-Hasan in the middle order are world class players. Mushfiq is a good captain, and with Mashrafe and Shaiful bowling well, we have a balanced side. We at the BCB have ensured our players have good experience of this format by organising the Bangladesh Premier League in February 2012 and I am confident the experience will come handy in Sri Lanka.
As a key ICC functionary do you think T20 cricket is gradually becoming a threat to Test cricket? For example, Sri Lanka isn’t playing a single Test match against the West Indies next year to ensure their players play the full IPL. Is this a problem for world cricket?
MK: Balancing the needs of the market while making sure Test cricket retains its charm is surely our top priority. We are aware of the challenges at hand and I can assure you the ICC will never do anything to weaken the Test format. Cricket is unique in that it has three different formats that are all viable, and it is upon us administrators to ensure all three coexist peacefully. For example, there was a major clamour in the media before the 2011 50-over World Cup that the one-day 50-over format is dead. The World Cup was proof that the format is still viable and loved by fans all round the world. World cricket is in safe hands and I can assure you that.
Bangladesh will once again play host to the 2014 edition of the world cup. A world cup every two years, isn’t it diluting the brand?
MK: No it isn’t. The 50-over World Cup is played every four years. Only the T20 world cup is played every two years. We at the ICC believe that two years is a reasonable interval for teams to challenge each other for the world trophy in this format. The tournament in Sri Lanka is being watched all over the world and that is proof the brand is robust and dynamic at the same time.
‘Even when I am tired I need to keep bowling well. That’s what I aim to do’
You and Ashwin are the new spin twins. Are you missing out on the action in Sri Lanka?
Pragyan Ojha: Playing the world cup for India is the dream of every cricketer, so in that sense, yes, I am missing not being there. But I always try and look at things from the half full side of things. I am young and still have loads of cricket ahead of me. At the moment I am practising hard on my variations and am looking forward to the Irani Trophy. It will help me get ready for the England series, which, by all yardsticks, is a huge challenge for India. The most important thing is to be consistent and be at the peak of my fitness so that even when I am tired I am bowling well and not conceding easy runs. That’s the aim in the next month or so.
You must be relishing bowling with Ashwin. When I spoke to him last week, he was all praise for you, saying you two have a very healthy competition going.
PO: Yes indeed. We are both there to pick wickets for India and it always helps if we can exert pressure from both ends. It ensures that the batsmen make mistakes and that’s what Ashwin and I are trying to do. Both of us are aggressive bowlers and want to excel in the highest format. It doesn’t matter to me who gets more wickets as long as we both are able to win Test matches for India. That’s the only thing that matters in the end.
Not many remember that you were the bowler of the IPL just a season or so earlier. You won the purple cap. Now you are being labelled a Test bowler. Does it frustrate you?
PO: These tags do frustrate me. If I am a good bowler I can bowl well in all conditions and in all formats. It is not as if I will bowl well in Test matches but won’t be able to do so in the T20 format or at the IPL level. I believe in working hard and proving myself. I am looking forward to the Champions League in South Africa and the Challenger Trophy. Performing consistently is the one and only thing I need to do.