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Young side plays smart

Wisden India logo Wisden India 12-03-2016

It would perhaps not be wrong to say that India’s victory in the inaugural edition of the World Twenty20 changed cricket forever. It led to tremendous popularity of the format in India, in turn leading to the formation of the Indian Premier League.

It’s almost impossible to imagine now that not many gave India a chance to go far in the tournament. They had played only one T20I before the tournament, had a new captain and a young side, and no coach.

But they did have a bowling coach in Venkatesh Prasad, who remembers the tournament as if it happened only yesterday. In a chat with Wisden India, the former Indian medium pacer talks about the side’s preparations, the India-Pakistan final, the unforgettable Joginder Sharma over, and more. Excerpts:

What’s the first memory that strikes when you think about the World T20 2007?

The first memory that comes to my mind is obviously the newness of the format – it was something we were never exposed to. Nobody, nobody in the world gave us a chance. That’s the first thing that comes to my mind. After that obviously the India-Pakistan match, the bowl-out, the final… but the whole point is that nobody even spoke about India at home if I’m right.

Nobody gave India a chance, but how was the mood in the Indian camp? Quietly confident?

No, no, no, no. The point is that we had a new captain in MS Dhoni and we all just wanted to have fun. We wanted to compete, there’s no doubt about that. From a coaching staff point of view, what I felt is we needed to play smart. Today, if you ask me what’s important in T20 cricket, I’d say you have to play smart cricket.

India had played just one T20I before the World T20. How did you as a coach formulate strategies for something so new?

The challenge was of course in terms of format, yes. But in terms of line, length and other things, you just had to focus because you cannot afford to give room to the batsmen. It’s like the one-day game. No matter which format it is, I’ve always felt you have to bowl a tight line and length, especially in the shorter formats. If you bowl a good line and length and still get hit, it’s a good shot. As simple as that. You go back and bowl the same ball.

You have to make sure you have the variation. Whether it’s a T20 or ODI, that is the whole point. You’ve got to have variations and know when to use them. You’ve got to have the tactical acumen as a player. You have to know when to use what. Even if it’s a one-day game, and let me say why I keep going back to the one-day game – you need to analyse the different phases of the game, and you also have to know what you’ve got in your armoury, so that you can bring it on when needed.

You mentioned the bowl-out against Pakistan. India used non regular bowlers like Robin Uthappa and hit everything on target. Was a bowl-out part of the preparations?

It was practised. When we saw the playing conditions, one of the things we noticed was the bowl-out in case of a tie. I don’t know how many teams would have felt that there could be a chance of a tie, right? And this is in the T20 format, in the first ever tournament. But it’s what I felt as a coach, we felt as a coaching staff and management.

Since it came under my purview, being the bowling coach, what I said is – for the heck of it, let’s have a contest after every nets session between the batsmen and the bowlers. So everybody bowled in the contests, and over a period of time, we kept making mental notes. This guy has a straight-arm action and the chance of him hitting the stump is much more than someone bowling with a side arm and so on. So that’s how we fixed our bowlers for the bowl-out. And who would believe it – we had a bowl-out in our very first game!

At which point in the tournament did India believe they could win it? Was there any specific trigger point?

As far as the games are concerned, we were just taking it one at a time. Not even once did we think that we would win the tournament. When I say that, it means we were taking it one game at a time.

Because we played against Australia, South Africa, England, Pakistan… beating all these fantastic teams in our very first exposure to T20s was amazing. So we wanted to keep it simple. We wanted to do the basics and play proper cricketing shots when everybody else was trying those lap shots and so on. And when it comes to bowling, we wanted to bowl straight. Our game plan was as simple.

The final – India v Pakistan. Talk us through the build-up to the big game.

The India-Pakistan final was a sort of icing on the cake. Beating Pakistan in the beginning of the tournament and then beating South Africa, England and Australia, and then again playing Pakistan in the final… you can’t expect a better story than that.

Having said that, there was obviously a lot of expectation. I need to be very honest in accepting that we were all very tense.

At one stage during the match, we felt we could lose the game, especially when Misbah-ul-Haq was batting. I think a lot of credit has to go to the players, no doubt, but also to Dhoni. He was new as a captain and it was the World Cup, but he was very cool and not perturbed at all. He made his bowling changes properly.

I don’t think it was very well thought out, as far as giving the last over to Joginder Sharma was concerned. But this is why you should give credit to Dhoni because he took the game to the last. He didn’t want his weaker bowlers at the last. He got Harbhajan Singh in the 18th over and somebody else (S Sreesanth) in the 19th. So what he was trying to do was take the game to the end and then see what happens. That was an amazing thought and that’s exactly what MS Dhoni did. And to all our luck, efforts, practice and planning, the result was outstanding.

How were the celebrations?

Nothing at all, absolutely. We won the final and did a lap of honour, which was outstanding. We thanked the thousands of fans at the ground and millions of spectators across the world. It was actually like playing in India. Especially the match against South Africa in Durban, it was like playing in India. In fact they themselves mentioned it – Shaun Pollock said they felt they were playing in India when in Durban, so that’s how it was.

It was a very young team, there should have obviously been a lot of dressing room fun…

There were quite a few [stories] but I won’t tell them (laughs). It was intense as well.

What did the win mean for you personally? You played two World Cups yourself.

It was fantastic. We did have a great chance of winning the World Cup or coming to the final in the 1996 World Cup, but that wasn’t to be. We lost to Sri Lanka in the semifinal and that was as close as I could get. But even as a player, I always believed in staying in the present. That’s what I did personally – be in the present, planning for the opposition tactically and so on.

The whole point was that we could achieve what we achieved only because of planning. Instead of thinking too much, we understood that thinking about the process was extremely important. That’s what I kept on doing, that’s what we kept on doing. It worked perfectly for us – for a young side to express themselves like that was fantastic.

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