'Give Yusuf the freedom even if he fails'
He was the hero of India's semifinal and final victories in the 1983 World Cup. The nation looks back at Mohinder Amarnath's deeds with the same admiration 27 years later. Amarnath believes India's latest impact player, Yusuf Pathan, needs to be handled carefully and given all support to get the best out of the explosive lower order batsman and off spinner at the World Cup. Amarnath, who was awarded the Castrol Lifetime Achievement Award on Friday, spoke to HT:
Do you agree that India is the favourite?
This is the best one-day team we have ever had. If we can avoid the injuries then you can see this team winning. Fitness is the key, if you have injuries then it will affect the performance of the team. However, there are no favourites because you don't have the home advantage as other teams too are now used to playing in the subcontinent. Playing at home can put added pressure; if you are doing well it can be great but if you start losing, then the emotions can start running high. But we definitely have the team.
The batting will rely heavily on Sehwag and Tendulkar. Once you have a good start then things become easier and we can take it from there.
The key to the 1983 success was we had horses for courses. Does this team have such all round players?
It's not important how big the names are in the shorter version of the game; you have to play well on that particular day. It's not that 11 best players will guarantee you a win because there is no second innings. This team has a lot of stars, and sometimes it can be a disadvantage too. Past performances are not important; the first game against a good team is the most crucial one. If you start winning the first few games then you carry that confidence. This is a golden opportunity for India as you can't have a better team than this even in the future. Dhoni has done well as a captain. The team is a great blend of experience and youth.
The Tendulkar factor:
For the last two years he has been playing his best cricket and what India needs is for him to carry his same form into the World Cup. Fitness is important in a tournament like the World Cup, which is more demanding. I hope there is no injury as if you miss one big game it can make a big difference. I would like Tendulkar to play his part and repeat the success of 1983.
He's not played much ODI cricket. Will it affect his rhythm?
Rhythm is not a problem as he is such a gifted player. The only concern is he should be injury free. Sometimes you can have a niggle and that can affect your performance. Whenever he plays well, India has done well.
How do you look at Yusuf Pathan doing at this World Cup?
He is an impact player, but when you have someone like Yusuf you should also be prepared for failure because it is very difficult to play in that fashion in each and every innings. But you need to have the patience and allow him to be a part of the eleven. You need a player like him, a big-hitter and a match-winner.
Who would you like emulating your 1983 role in this World Cup?
I would still like Tendulkar to be a leading player. He has done it and has everything going in his favour. If he can give the start he is capable of, India will be difficult to beat.
How the game has changed?
The planning has changed definitely, the fielding standard has improved. But again I think whatever planning you do, it won't make much difference on the field. Your mind is your best computer. It's a game of pressure, the one who handles it better, excels.
How important will be the spin factor?
In 1996, Sri Lanka won because their strength was spin and batting. Of course pace bowlers are there to play their part. Fielding will be very important because the outfields are very fast in India. And, in a crunch game fielding will play a very important part.
How do you handle the pressure, expectations?
They are a very experienced lot, they have been winning so far. Things are very different when you are winning, but once you start losing the reaction that comes (is tough to face.) But they have gone through it and can handle that.
Especially given the huge demand from sponsors?
You have to leave it to the individual. They know how important it is for the country, for their people and for themselves.