Fatigue India's biggest challenge at World Twenty20 - Kirsten
Gary Kirsten, the India coach, says mental fatigue will be his team's biggest challenge during the World Twenty20 in England next month. The event starts on June 5 but India play their first warm-up game on June 1, just seven days after the IPL ends in South Africa. Kirsten also believes India, the defending champions, will be under added pressure during the ICC tournament but says the team has shown it is capable of handling such situations.
"The Indian players have been on the road for a long time and the biggest challenge will be mental fatigue," Kirsten told Cricinfo. "But they have enormous pride when representing India and have become a tight unit over the past few months. I'm sure they will look forward to reuniting and playing for their country."
The Indian players have been almost living out of their suitcases since they left Mumbai for the New Zealand tour on February 20. They got a few days off after the series ended on April 7 before leaving for the IPL, which began on April 18. They return home for a few days again when the IPL ends on May 24 - the entire 15-member World Twenty20 squad is playing in the league - before leaving for England to play their first day/night warm-up game against New Zealand at Lord's. India take on Bangladesh in their first game of the tournament on June 6 in Trent Bridge.
But Kirsten, who took over as India coach in 2008, said he was confident the team would be able to handle the pressure when defending the title they won in 2007. "When you are defending champions there will always be added pressure," Kirsten said. "That goes with the territory of high-performing teams. This team has played in many pressure situations since the Twenty20 World Cup in 2007 and has shown what they are capable of."
How different would the conditions be in England for the World Twenty20? It's something all international teams, he said, have to come to terms with. "Every country has its own unique conditions which each team and individual needs to comes to terms with," he said. "The players are aware of those conditions and what is required to give themselves the best chance of performing. Most of the Indian players have played in England and know what to expect."
India have sported a stable look over the five Twenty20 internationals they have played since the 2007 world title victory - winning two and losing three. In fact, there have been only two changes in the team from the 16-member squad for the last two games they played in New Zealand, and the 15-member World Twenty20 squad that was announced on Monday.
There is an argument that such stability could also lead to complacency among players in the team but Kirsten was quick to dismiss such suggestions. "Experienced players understand the demands and pressures of World Cup tournaments," he said. "Throw in a few talented and fearless young players and you have a great mix in the team. There is certainly no danger of complacency within the Indian team. We pride ourselves in taking each game as it comes and giving 100% on a daily basis while representing Team India."
Giving a hint of the team's gameplan for the world event, Kirsten said he believes spin will play a major role in Twenty20 cricket. India have only two fulltime spinners - Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha - in their World Twenty20 squad but have a rich variety of part-time options to choose from: Yuvraj Singh, Yusuf Pathan, Virender Sehwag, Ravindra Jadeja, Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma.
Moving on to the ongoing IPL, Kirsten, who is based in Cape Town, said the tournament has benefited young Indian cricketers immensely. He put forward the growth of Yusuf Pathan's game at the last IPL, as an example. "The IPL provides a great opportunity for young Indian cricketers to show what they are capable of in a high-profile environment," he said. "They also get to mix with, and learn from, successful international cricketers. This can only be of benefit to Indian cricket. Performances during the IPL can definitely be a stepping stone to achieving higher honours. Yusuf Pathan was one example of that last year."
What is evident from the league, he said, was that the best team on paper is not necessarily the most successful one. "There will always be new ideas and new thinking in every IPL," he said. "What is of interest to me are those teams that are able to win consistently and why they are able to do it. It isn't always the best team on paper."
Asked about Buchanan's captaincy theory for the Kolkata Knight Riders, the IPL team that he coaches, Kirsten said: "In the dynamic world we live in, innovative thinking is important to try and stay ahead and push the boundaries of performance. I think it is important to balance out what is already working and what can improve performance. MS Dhoni has proved a highly effective and capable leader for India and I'm sure that will not change for some time to come."
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo