Right from the time I played domestic cricket, my overriding aim has been to be there till the end and to score a run a ball. Since I was not pushed to the lower middle order, I was used to playing in the middle order by the time I played for Australia.This was an important factor in shaping my career in One-Day cricket because it helped me hone my skills of planning an innings, chasing a target and batting with the lower order — three crucial components of batting at five or six.
Virat’s like me
In many ways middle order batting is about making the right decisions and planning your innings. I always wanted to be one or two steps ahead of the game and tried to make the right decision when it came to shot selection and planning. I see this potential of thinking out an innings in Virat Kohli. He seems to be an intelligent cricketer who has a good head for tight situations.
The part about batting lower down is the challenge of playing with the tail. To be fair, it was a healthy tail that we had in my time. I had some critical partnerships with the likes of Andy Bichel and Brett Lee who were no mugs with the bat. I would assess the situation and try to repose as much faith in them as possible. It worked more times than it didn't and these guys have a role to play in my reputation as a finisher.
The T20 effect
The role of a lower-order batsmen has now changed and a lot of it has to do with Twenty20 cricket. If my contemporaries were aiming at a run a ball, today’s batsmen are targeting a strike rate of 115-120. It’s a more aggressive, fearless era where there are no safe targets. One thing that remains the same, however, is that you still have to plan, make decisions and have a very calm, stable head on your shoulders.
Sachin’s the man
Among the best finishers in the game today, I would still mention Sachin Tendulkar. He has always structured his innings magnificently and today seems to relish the challenge of steering his team to a win. He has mastered all aspects of the one-day innings, and I think this World Cup will see him at peak form. I have already spoken about Kohli, but the other youngster whom I am keen to watch is Eoin Morgan. He has the ability to do well because he seems to have a calm head.
This could be a breakthrough tournament for him. There is also Michael Hussey, who is now a veteran. If fit, he can still play the role of finisher to the hilt. The other guy who can possibly change the way we view this batting position is Yusuf Pathan. He has such incredible power that he could actually redefine the job description of a lower middle order batsman. This could be his World Cup as well.
Waugh was just great
Looking back, the satisfaction of coming from behind and being there at the end is a special feeling. I remember a game at the MCG in 2001, against New Zealand when I was there till the end, helping us win the game from a 30-for-4 situation.
In the 1999 World Cup, the thrill was to win seven in a row. I would like to mention Steve Waugh in this connection. He was a great leader who let us express ourselves and backed us always. He had a very positive impact on my career. In the 1999 World Cup he was exceptional, and the semifinal win, in a game that we were out of, is my single most memorable day on a cricket field.
India look the part
Each tournament has its own story with tense finishes and dramatic chases. India look the part this time, but it would be interesting to see how they handle the expectations of a demanding home crowd. They have been coping well of late, but the pressure of a showpiece tournament, which comes around only once in four years is something else, and might get to India.
South Africa, too, look good. They have a very good bowling attack and are a stable, experienced side. As far as Australia are concerned, I didn’t think they were in the right frame of mind after the Ashes, but have played remarkably well in the One-Day series, and this was a crucial series for them. If they can bring some momentum with them, they can’t be ruled out. But it has to be admitted that a cluster of four-five teams is at the top. I don’t know whether the teams have caught up with the Australians or whether the Australians have fallen behind. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle. Gameplan