With just about a week to go for the start of the World Cup, Sachin Tendulkar spoke to ESPNcricinfo on what he expects from the tournament
Keeping in the mind the pace at which batsmen are scoring in ODIs, the flat nature of pitches in England and Wales, and the smaller grounds, what do you reckon will define this World Cup?
To score that many runs in 50-over format there are a number of elements. Firstly, the pitches are flat. You've seen in the last three to four matches that England played against Pakistan [recently] most of the scores were around 350 runs. It has to do with two new balls as well - even in the 46th or 47th over the ball is only 23 or 24 overs old. So it is not an old ball as such, it still has a fair amount of gloss and it doesn't reverse. As per the earlier rule when we were playing with one ball, around the 28th over or so the ball would start reversing. It would also get disfigured, get softer. So for a batsman it was a challenge to go out and tonk every bowler.
Here the ball is maintaining its hardness, shine, and with field restrictions - all these elements are putting a lot of pressure on the bowling attacks. I believe if you have quality spinners to bowl in the middle overs they would end up picking wickets. It is all about bowling in partnerships - if quality bowlers could bowl in tandem and create pressure on the batting line-up, that is one way of countering all these factors [that] I feel are not in favour of the bowlers.
Shikhar Dhawan is the only left-hander in the Indian batting order. Keeping in mind the utility and importance of legspinners in limited-overs cricket, do you reckon it is imperative that Dhawan bat as deep as he can?
Yes, of course. A left-right combination always helps because that means the bowler has to adjust his line every now and then and the [bowling] captain has to keep thinking. And if there is a partnership the job becomes even more tougher. So, yes, it is important for a left-hander to be there to put pressure on the legspinner or for that matter any bowler.
The Indian top order (1-3) is one of the best, but do you agree the middle order will be India's biggest challenge?
I look at it from a different point of view. From No. 1 to 7 or 8 you expect the batsmen to deliver. Yes, each batsman would have a different role assigned by the captain and the coach, and one has to understand that role and deliver to the best of his ability. I feel up to No. 4 it is a different requirement as far as the delivery is concerned. And from Nos. 5-8 you are looking at finishers, who stay till the end and soak in that pressure. I feel we are well equipped to do that.
There has been endless debate on who is best suited to No. 4. Among the batsmen in the 15 who will be your choice(s) for No. 4 and why?
Now, a number of things have been discussed as far as slot No. 4 is concerned, but I feel if you have quality batsmen then they should be able to adjust their style of play at whichever number they are asked to bat. I think we have that quality which can go out and deliver at whatever number they have been sent.
My personal opinion is Dhoni should be batting five. I still don't know what the team combination would be, but if you are going [with] Rohit and Shikhar as openers, to Virat [Kohli] at No. 3 and whoever at No. 4 then Dhoni could be No. 5. Then Hardik Pandya, an explosive player, follows them. That way the experienced batsmen are well spaced out and Dhoni can stretch the game towards the end where he himself can be explosive along with Hardik.
Hardik proved this IPL how hungry and keen he is to perform in pressure situations. He must have had chats with you recently - what did you tell him? Do you reckon he might become the most important player if India have to go all the way in the tournament?
I have general chats with Hardik. Our aim [at Mumbai Indians] was to first win the IPL and then look at anything else. Even in IPL one would go match and match and not jump too far ahead. That was our motto. We kept things simple in the IPL. Now we have moved to the World Cup. Looking at the way how Hardik has played in the IPL, he is connecting the ball really well. He hasn't slogged, to be honest. He has played proper cricketing shots, which is an advantage because that is how one would get more consistent. That is going to work in his favour. Hardik, of course, has gone to England with lots and lots of confidence and positive energy, which will reflect on the field.
This is going to be a big tournament for him. I am hoping that we, as a team, move forward and go all the way till the end and give a reason for the whole nation to smile and celebrate.
Who are your probable semi-finalists?
India, England, Australia should be in the semis. The fourth could be one of New Zealand or Pakistan.