'Opening is a specialist job'
Greg Chappell was in relaxed mood the morning after India's historic win at the Wanderers, a victory that shredded the form-book and eased some of the unbearable pressure that the team has had to cope with in recent times. He spoke to the print media at the team hotel on topics as diverse as the matches to come, Irfan Pathan's role and Munaf Patel's fitness.
What are the plans for Durban now, in the light of this victory?
We're in a better state to be able to deal with Durban now than we were three weeks ago when we were there last.
You mean a better state mentally?
Yes, and a better physical state. We've had a bit more time to adjust to the conditions and I think we've demonstrated in this Test match that we have an attack that can use those conditions. So I think the South Africans will be a little bit more aware of what we can bring to the table as well and that might change their approach to Durban. I just think we're that much more experienced, the younger players are that much more experienced, the senior players have addressed the issues they needed to address and we're in a better state mentally and physically to deal with it than we were last time.
Will the additional bounce still be a problem?
It was tough. I mean, how long had we been in South Africa before we got to Durban? We'd only been here a week or so. It takes some adjustment. It's like the Indian team coming to Australia and going to Perth for the first time. They'd be better equipped the second time around. South Africa got bowled out for 84 here at the Wanderers, so they might not be looking forward to going to Durban either.
Do you remain concerned over the form of the openers?
We've been through this situation before, and most teams have gone through it. Viru wasn't in great shape before we got to St. Lucia, he did fine there. The extra bounce at Kingsmead might suit him. Look, at any given moment, there are concerns about the state of the team, the group, individuals within the group. I don't want to talk about individuals as this is not the right place. But yes, we're concerned about a number of issues. We'd like everyone to get runs or get wickets all the time, but that doesn't happen unfortunately.
And what's the situation with Munaf Patel?
We're hopeful. Two days in the middle [India have arranged a two-day match against a Kwa Zulu Natal Invitation XI] will be a lot more valuable than two days at the nets, and Munaf is now bowling again. He bowled for the second or third time yesterday, and is getting better by the day. We'll be in a better position to know what his fitness is closer to the event. We can get him to bowl two or three spells in that game, and that would give us a much better idea as opposed to bowling two or three spells in a net session.
But if there's the slightest doubt when we get to Kingsmead, we'll err on the conservative side and make sure that whenever he next plays, he'll be 100 percent fit. He's too important to us in the medium to long term to risk short-term benefit.
I was quite happy with our attack in this game and if we do have to go in with that same attack, I'm not going to be too disappointed. If Munaf is fit and ready, he would certainly come in for serious consideration.
Has the team considered makeshift openers?
I think in Test cricket, specialists are more likely to do the job for you. There will be the odd time where you can maybe use an experiment for want of a better word. As a basic belief though, I think specialists would work best.
Parthiv [Patel] was once used in Pakistan. Would you use Irfan [Pathan] at the top? Is it a temptation or would that be going two steps back?
We certainly haven't discussed that at this stage and I wouldn't see it necessarily as a main option coming into Durban, but if we thought it was a viable one we would certainly consider it. Irfan batted extremely well in Potch but it's a helluva thing to ask. It's one thing to ask them to bat higher up the order in a one-day game for various reasons like field placings.
You've got someone like Virender. His Test record is extraordinary. And when he gets runs, he normally gets big. It's hard to walk away from a specialist player in that sort of position. But again, when you think back, he [Sehwag] was a middle-order player.
Could Rahul [Dravid] go up, as he did in Pakistan?
That's an option again, but we haven't got to that stage. I think if we make a change, it would be more likely to go with someone who is a specialist in the squad [Gautam Gambhir].
Where do things stand now with Pathan?
I'm sure we'll look back and say that this was a catalyst for him to go to another level. The work he's put in on his batting the last 18 months is paying off. And I think he's a great example to other players, not just the bowlers even the batsmen that if you stop working on the basics, don't continue with them, you can go backwards.
Even Zaheer [Khan] batted really well in this game.
It's very much a mental thing, and he's come to the realisation with his own batting that this is the thought process he needs to have. And at the end of the day, it's not about technique. India is probably more technique-minded than anywhere else in the cricket world, but the technique is an expression of what you're thinking about. Your technique can look totally different one ball to the next, let alone one day to the next, because of the thought processes.
Would you also say that people have been a bit too harsh and impulsive when it comes to Jaffer, given he has failed just once?
When you've got good players who are proven performers, you don't throw them away lightly. Cricket history is littered with players who've come out of slumps and made big scores. It was only two or three Test matches ago that Wasim got 200 for us. You've got to be very careful in writing people off. Again, it's an adjustment to come back into the group, let alone play. He played a couple of one-day games, but this was the first game back, as far as Test matches were concerned, after early July in the West Indies. It's best not to be too hasty.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo