India can find right balance before World Cup - Gavaskar
With a dramatic slump in one-day form, India have come under widespread criticism for shuffling the batting order and failing to chase even small targets. Sunil Gavaskar, however, has cautioned against hitting the panic button and believed there were enough opportunities before next year's World Cup for the side to find the correct groove.
"There will be lots of tournaments to go before the World Cup, and I think India can find that right balance," Gavaskar said at the eighth annual Castrol Awards for Cricketing Excellence in Mumbai. "There's the Champions Trophy, the tour to South Africa, and some one-day internationals in January-February. There's plenty of scope for the core of the team as well as the little pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to fall into place."
In Gavaskar's opinion, one of the most important aspects to India's success during the Champions Trophy and next year in the Caribbean was spin. "I would imagine that the spinners have always been our strength. Spinners have won many more matches for India than have the seam bowlers," he said. "That said, having good quality seam bowlers who can use the new ball is always a big plus. If they can get the first two or three batsmen out, it makes it easier for the other bowlers to come through. Harbhajan Singh has shown in Kuala Lumpur recently how well he bowls. He's even done that in the West Indies, and in the past. Spin would have to play a key role in our plans in any future events."
Gavaskar cited Piyush Chawla, the gifted Uttar Pradesh legspinner and Castrol Junior Cricketer of the Year winner, as a prime example of India's spin tradition. "Piyush Chawla is a young cricketer. He seems to be a very good learner," he said. "His attitude, his hunger for success is a big plus. We know that [Anil] Kumble is not going to be around forever, and Piyush has age on his side, so it makes it that much more crucial that we nurture someone like Chawla."
"It [legspin] is a very difficult art and we have to therefore be a little patient with him, nurture him, and probably even play him alongside Kumble, not necessarily in Test matches but in some form of a match," Gavaskar added. "Or at least be in the same dressing room. I think he'll learn a lot being around someone like Kumble - attitude, bowling to different batsmen, conditions, different pitches and situations. These are best learnt in the dressing room."
Gavaskar revealed how he himself learnt from his seniors and said it is a must for young aspirants to the Indian side. "I used to see the way [Erapalli] Prasanna would bowl to Ajit Wadekar and Dilip Sardesai. Just watching the way Sardesai used to handle him was an incredible lesson. Using your feet, being very light on the feet, trying to convert flighted deliveries into half-volleys. Wadekar staying put in his crease and then cutting and pulling anything short. It was fantastic, and any young cricketer getting the chance to be around top players and being able to see top quality bowling and batting, will only benefit."
EAS Prasanna, India's greatest offspinner, was felicitated with the Castrol Lifetime Achievement Award. Chawla, whose consistency at the domestic and junior levels won him a place in the Indian Test side for the home series against England earlier this year, pipped other notable talents to bag his award. Jhulan Goswami, the fastest bowler in women's cricket, received the Castrol Special Award for her outstanding bowling on the recent England tour. During the successful tour, Goswami became only the second Indian, and first woman, to take ten wickets in a Test on English soil.
"It's fantastic to be in the presence of many of my former colleagues, who have contributed so much to Indian cricket," Gavaskar said. "We need to compliment Castrol for recognising the contributions of former Indian players. At the end of the day, it's the legacy left by the former players that keeps the game going."
Jamie Alter is editorial assistant of Cricinfo