World Cup: No one is an automatic selection, says Rohit Sharma
The India skipper talks elaborately about plans to put together a team that can try and win the premier ICC ODI tournament at home
With less than two months to go for the ICC World Cup at home, all eyes are on skipper Rohit Sharma and the team management to get preparation and squad composition right. The focus is on the middle-order, especially No.4. With Shreyas Iyer and KL Rahul yet to return after surgery, India are keen Suryakumar Yadav translates his T20 skills in ODIs.
At a promotional event ahead of the Laliga EA Sports season for which Sharma is the brand ambassador, he interacted with the media and spelt out the thinking that will go into India's Cup composition, while stressing that no one can take his spot for granted. Sharma wants batters to be flexible and deliver wherever they bat.
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You got good runs in the West Indies, a hundred in the first Test. Apparently, you were keen to score runs there.
I wasn’t ‘keen’... I’ve got enough runs. In every series, I’m not going to say: ‘I’ve to score a hundred.’ Whatever I’ve done, I have done. Now, it’s just helping the team, contributing in whatever way I can. People who’ve proven themselves again and again don’t need to keep proving their entire life.
With less than two months to go, how’s the World Cup preparation?
We’ve to be prepared, but at the same time there are a lot of other factors like who are the right guys? How we can fit in guys in the squad? What are the challenges we’re going to face during the World Cup? Where’s the hole in our team, is it batting or bowling? In bowling, what are the problems, in spin or fast bowling. And in batting, where are the issues, opening, middle-order or finishing? We’ve to make all our departments strong and for that we need to give chances to our players. Not everything, or every time will you get things right. You’re human at the end of the day. The guys who’re working with me are also human. So, we'll make errors... But it’s important for people to have opportunities. Before they get into the World Cup, they should have had 20-30 games. I’m not saying all 30 of them... There will be guys whom you think are talented, can do the job. They can straightaway come in... It’s not like we’ve to compulsorily give 15 games to a player, there can be exceptions. I remember the 2007 (T20 World Cup win) was my first World Cup. I didn’t go with any expectation, nor that people outside were expecting anything from us, or me. Yusuf Pathan, it was his first international tour as well. So, new players came in and we won the World Cup. At the same time, we had a mixture of solid, experienced players as well in Yuvi, Harbhajan, MS (Dhoni), Agarkar, Sehwag. Gambhir wasn’t too experienced. In a squad, you should have everything. So, when he goes out to bat, there’ll be no pressure on him, no baggage of scoring 10,000 runs or 100 centuries or fastest fifty or hundred. You need some guys like that.
Was that the idea behind experimenting with the ODI line-up in the Windies?
Basically, the idea was to give everyone some games, and to see what we have or don’t have. If I and he (Kohli) would’ve played, how would have Suryakumar, Sanju Samson (played)? I was asked (by the media) there that Axar (Patel) is not a No.4. This is international cricket. I started at No.7. I never thought in my life I would become an opener. It’s not written anywhere that a No.4 batsman must bat at No.4 only. If you are in the team, you should bring versatility to the side, that you can play and perform anywhere. We’ll try and figure out what’s the best position for him (Surya). But we can only figure that once we’ve seen them play at all positions. If you want a fixed slot, then play for your club. If you want to play for India, you should be able to bat anywhere. I can give my example -- I’ve batted from No.1 to No.7. It’s the same for everyone. Tell the guys to bowl at you with the new ball, and if you are a finisher, and you’re batting at Nos 6-7, tell the boys to take a slightly older ball, get it to reverse. All this is said. It’s not like someone is sent to bat (at a different number) out of nowhere. We aren’t that mad.
What is the thinking on the No.4 spot?
Look, No.4 has been an issue for us for a long time. After Yuvi, nobody has come and settled in. But for a long time, Shreyas batted at No.4 and he has done well. Unfortunately, injuries have given him a bit of trouble. That is honestly what has happened in the last 4-5 years. A lot of these guys have got injured; you will always see a new guy coming and playing there. So, nobody has been able to settle down... The amount of injuries in the last 4-5 years is massive. When players get injured or are not available, you try doing different things with different players — that is what I have to say about No.4.
Given how Tilak Varma has started, can he be picked for the World Cup?
He looks very promising. I have seen him for two years now, he has got the hunger and that is the most important thing. For the age that he is of (20), he is quite mature. He knows his batting so well. When I speak with him, I understand that the boy knows his batting – where he has to hit, what he has to do in that period. I do not know about the World Cup and all, but definitely the guy is talented and he showed it in these few games he has played for India. In his first match he batted under pressure, wickets had fallen and he batted well. He has got good temperament. Only two years ago I had said he would play for India, and today he is playing.
Rahul and Shreyas are coming back, are they automatic picks?
No one is an automatic (selection), even I am not. We cannot say that ‘you are there after all’ or things like that. Yes, some players know that they are going to play, but at this point in time playing three ODIs in the West Indies was a good opportunity to look at a few guys. In the Asia Cup again, we will face good opposition. We want to win but at the same time there are a lot of questions for which we need answers. Shreyas and KL are coming off not having played anything for four months, big injuries. I had to undergo surgery once and know how it feels afterwards. We have to see how they respond, what they do. The selection (meeting) will be there in a few days, we will have a good debate about what we can do. But honestly, nobody is an automatic choice – they all have to fight for the spot... In the Asia Cup, I want to see some of the guys batting under pressure against quality teams. It is always nice to have a lot of names rather than just one or two. I hope they are fit in time; firstly, that is most important. They have been at NCA for four months, working really hard. It looks positive, fingers crossed.
How do you see Surya’s challenge adjusting to ODIs?
Yes, he has found it tough to find that right tempo (in ODIs). In T20 he is set; he walks out and plays in a certain way. But in 50-overs, the challenges are different. He is really working hard, talking to a lot of guys who've played a lot of ODI cricket as to what attitude and mindset (to have). You also have to give him that freedom to go and bat the way he does. You cannot tell him to face 100 balls and make 50 runs. It is important to give a batter like him the cushion of extra games so that he finds that groove and gets that confidence. For a player like him, it is our job to create such a scenario — ‘It’s okay, if you don’t do well in 2-3 games we are okay, but when you come off, we know you will win games straightaway’. That is what he did in the third T20I, the batters at the top got out and for Surya to go and bat like that. It is a different format, but we will also have to see how long we can stretch this (having Surya at No.4).
What does this World Cup mean to you, at home, expectations... you carried the team at the 2019 World Cup (5 hundreds)…
Once we get into the practice matches before the World Cup, that is the time I need to start focussing on what I need to do first as a batter. Captaincy is secondary... my role in the team is more as a batter... first of all, I have to score big runs and win games for the team. I have never won a (50-over) World Cup, it’s a dream to win and to be here fighting for it; nothing makes me happier. You don’t get World Cups on a platter. You have to really work hard, that is what we have been doing from 2011 till now. Everyone is desperate to go and win because we know we have a good team. That confidence and belief is there that they can do it. It has not happened doesn’t mean we take it lightly. When we lost the 2022 World Cup, I said we will keep fighting for the next World Cup. Kabhi na kabhi to milega.
How happy are you with the bowling attack? Are you looking at Ashwin because spin will be a crucial part?
The last few years we got some good fast bowlers but spinners have always been our strength. I am not going to take any names, who is going to make it and who is not going to, but we know spin is going to play a big part considering that you get a lot of help with the older ball.
You and Virat are not playing T20s, there is speculation that you may not play the T20 World Cup next year.
Last year also we did the same thing -- the T20 World Cup was there so we didn’t play One-day cricket. You can’t play everything and be ready for the World Cup. We want to keep everyone fresh; already we had so many injuries in the team that I am scared of injuries now. We had a discussion with the BCCI also. Whenever we have an opportunity to rest players, we will, and rotate them. We don’t want anyone to miss the key events. A couple of our key players missed some big events in the last two years and we don’t want that.
Everyone is looking forward to India-Pakistan games in the Asia Cup?
It is exciting for you guys, for us there is no such excitement; it will just be an opposition we will be playing. They are a good opposition no doubt, they will challenge us no doubt, but inside the dressing room it is all relaxed. At the end of the day you are still competing; you want to be in a good frame of mind. You can't bring out your A game if you are tensed up. Even in my first Pakistan game at the 2007 T20 World Cup, it was so relaxed. This is the team which is going to play, this is their strength, weakness, we will try to do this, that's it. Over. Crowd is shouting but the team was following the same routine as for other games. I realised it is just another game.
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