There are lots of holes which Perth-based Aussie batting great and two-time World Cup skipper (1979 and 1983) Kim Hughes wants MS Dhoni's men to plug, but he also gives credit where it is due
Before the 1983 World Cup, just after India had beaten West Indies for the first time in a one-day international at Berbice in Guyana on March 29, 1983, an Australian captain predicted an Indian upswing in the English summer.
Former Australian captain Kim Hughes. Pic/mid-day Archives
His name: Kimberly John Hughes. The term he used for India: Dark horse. Even after 32 years, Kim Hughes remembers talking India up very well. "I just felt that with someone like Kapil Dev, a real match-winner in their team, they would do well. I suppose in my real heart of hearts, I did not think they could beat the West Indies, but I thought they would be a dangerous side," Hughes told mid-day from Perth last Saturday, a day after he watched India getting mauled by England in their do-or-die tri-series game at the Western Australia Cricket Association ground.
Hughes (61) remembered the strategy India used then against the mighty West Indies and felt they could be well served to use a bit of the same in the bowling department as India prepare to defend their 2011 World Cup crown Down Under from February 15. "It was the lack of pace that did the West Indies in. I remember Mohinder Amarnath getting three wickets in that final and he did it through a lack of pace. He just moved the ball around a bit.
"In Perth, the other day, there were good conditions for bowling, but on this tour of Australia, India's bowling has been very disappointing. They have some promising youngsters but they have been inconsistent. They've been poor especially in Test cricket. They have some promise but they didn't seem to improve at all. India certainly need Ishant Sharma back to lead their attack.
Quicksilver and smart: India's Rohit Sharma (right) celebrates his century as captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni runs between the wickets during the January 18 one-day international against Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Pic/Getty Images
They shouldn't try and bowl too quickly; just move the ball, swing the ball. This is the key," Hughes said. He rates India's running between wickets "excellent and the best I've seen in an Indian team" and puts the fielding/catching in perspective: "The fielding is not too bad but they caught poorly — as did Australia — in the Test series. Virat Kohli, one of the best players in the world at the moment, has to be in the slips. Ajinkya Rahane is a good catcher.
Big scores needed
"Overall, the fielding is steady but your top four-five have to get big scores. The openers (Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan) did an outstanding job in Perth on a difficult pitch against England. "It was a fantastic effort when they put up 80-odd for the first wicket but then six to seven wickets were pretty soft dismissals. India need to turn it around pretty quickly, They need Ishant back as well as Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli among the runs."
Hughes liked what he saw of Stuart Binny in Perth, where the seam bowling all-rounder claimed three for 33 in eight overs, to put India back in a game which ultimately went England's way. "From India's point of view, Binny's success the other day is a very positive aspect.
"That three-wicket spell was good for India. Your spinners are going to be important to put pressure on sides," said Hughes, who has fond memories of India, where he wants to do some corporate speaking. He ends our telephonic conversation by loosening his cloak of modesty: "I've scored the most number of runs in a series by an Australian in India." In 1979-80, Hughes helped himself to 594 runs in six Tests at 59.40."
I would be very surprised if NZ didn't make the semi-finals. The semi-final line-up will be Australia, South Africa, NZ and the fourth spot will be a bit of a raffle. NZ are well led by Brendon McCullum.
He's a fantastic player and so is Kane Williamson. Luke Ronchi is a dangerous player and then there is the seasoned Ross Taylor. Daniel Vettori has been a world-class spinner. I don't know whether he's still up to it but he has a presence. NZ is an outstanding fielding team. They have confidence and momentum.
Where does Clarke fit in?
I just don't see a position for Michael Clarke and I don't think they can play George Bailey, Steve Smith and Clarke. Bailey has tremendous temperament and a brilliant fielder and you are always going to play Smith, who can bowl his leggies too.
Where his batting is concerned, he can walk on water at the moment. They will start with Clarke but it's a big risk. If he does his hamstring, he won't get a runner and if I was his opposition captain, I wouldn't be keen to give him a substitute fielder.