New Delhi: Former India seamer and bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad wants the struggling pace trio of Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami to concentrate on bowling "stump-to-stump" without trying too many variations in upcoming Cricket World Cup, starting February 14.
India will open their campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan at Adelaide on February 15. "You just have to bowl stump-to-stump. There is no need to try anything extraordinary. In the shorter format, you just got to keep it tight and not give any width to the batsmen. That is the consistency our bowlers need to develop," Prasad told PTI in an exclusive interview.
Prasad, who has played in two ODI World Cups in 1996 and 1999 and the bowling coach during India's victorious World T20 campaign in 2007, is a bit worried about team's form. "To a certain extent, yes," he answered. "Having said that, the boys have got a gap for about two weeks. They have got the time to fix the flaws detected during the Australia tour. They might not have done well so far but World Cup is a new beginning.
"Just one win in a high intensity game against Pakistan, would give their morale a huge boost for the subsequent games," said Prasad, who himself played stellar role in tormenting Pakistan in the two editions (1996 and 1999) that he played in. His animated send-off of Pakistan opener Aamir Sohail during 1996 Bangalore quarter-final is a part of Indo-Pak cricketing folklore as much as his brilliant spell of swing bowling on a cool Old Trafford afternoon in 1999.
"My performances against Pakistan has been a sheer co-incidence. It is nice to hear that my name comes up whenever people speak about Indo-Pak World Cup clashes. I am sure there would be many more players, who would create history," said Prasad.
Having "been there and done that", Prasad is eagerly awaiting for the marquee match between the arch-rivals at Adelaide, hoping India would better their tournament record against Pakistan to 6-0. "It is a big big match for fans on either side and I heard the tickets were sold out in like 20 minutes. To live up to the fans' expectations is bound to create a lot of pressure on the players.
Having played at home and away against Pakistan in World Cup, I can safely say there is less pressure outside India. "Anyway, I feel this team is very different (from past teams) and would not let pressure get the better of them," said 45-year-old Prasad, who took 196 wickets in 161 ODIs, for India.
Talking more about the frenzied build-up for an Indo-Pak World Cup match, Prasad says it amazes him to to this day the kind of impact a cricket match is capable of creating in the minds of countless fans.
"I was working out in the gym yesterday and there I overheard people talking about the 1996 quarterfinal. As players, we want to win every match but when you win against Pakistan, you realise what it means to the Indian fans," he said. Not many remember that he took three crucial wickets in that memorable match at the Chinnaswamy, including Sohail's dramatic dismissal.
Four years later at Manchester, Prasad produced his best ODI figures (5/27) in what turned out to be a match-winning effort in a low-scoring affair. Ask to pick him his favourite Cup moment against Pakistan?
"I played in World Cup twice and both times we played against Pakistan. Most important was that we won those two games. Knowing that I played a big part in those wins is very satisfying. "Both the matches were interesting in different ways. On both occasions we were defending the target but in 96 we were defending a huge target. Those days 287 was a huge score. The way they (Saeed Anwar and Sohail) were playing, it looked as if they would finish in 45 overs. There was pin drop silence around the ground.
"But I got Sohail bowled and there were exchanges of words and blah blah blah, but more importantly that wicket changed the course of the game in our favour. "In England four years later, we were just defending 227 and not many expected us to defend that. But we fielded extremely well, took some outstanding catches and I happened to get five wickets," recalled Prasad.
His former rivals across the border including Inzamam-ul-Haq has begun with barrage of verbal volleys, saying there will be more pressure on India than Pakistan as they aim to maintain their 100 percent win record. Prasad doesn't agree with them.
"This Indian team handles the pressure really well. They know what pressure is all about. In the end, you just to focus on the process and perform in all departments and back yourself. "It is the same for Pakistan. There will be a lot of pressure on them. If they lose, it will be 6-0 in favour of India. They will have to wait at least another four years to comeback and win. So there is equal amount of pressure on Pakistan as well. Both teams are good but India have the advantage in fielding," he summed up.