Chennai: Former India captain Srinivas Venkataraghavan is of the opinion that Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team lacks consistency and expressed concerns at the "unstable" opening combination going into the upcoming cricket World Cup.
India's run-up to the quadrennial extravaganza has been far from impressive, with the team failing to win a single international match against Australia and England Down Under.
"Present Indian team lacks consistency. The most important factor -- be it the top or middle-order batting or the bowling -- the fact of the matter is that consistency is the key to success. That is lacking in the Indian team," the 69-year-old, who led India in the inaugural World Cup in 1975 and in 1979, told PTI.
MS Dhoni. Pic/ PTI
"It is also a pity that we do not have stable combination at the top and that is what we require in one-day cricket. After all you have to get a good solid start."
Talking further about the lack of consistency, he said, "They lack the application and mindset. Motivation might be there. They all have the aspirations, the enthusiasm to play.
But they will have to perform on the field of play." Venkataraghavan, who has been a respected ICC elite panel umpire and featured in Ashes series and World Cup semi-finals, felt India might sneak into the last four stage as the fourth team. "It is pretty easy to predict the four teams in the semi-finals. Two best teams in the fray are South Africa and Australia.
Australians have the added advantage of playing in their own backyard like New Zealand and the fourth slot is India. "You cannot rule out England also. They are also performing well and they are there. Though they are also not able to finish as India. Of course, South Africans are known to be chokers," he said. Under Venkataraghavan's captaincy, India failed to make it past league stage in 1975 and 1979 editions, even facing a defeat against Sri Lanka.
Talking about the balance of the team, he said the long tour of Australia prior to the World Cup could be beneficial for India. "This is a fairly inexperienced side. The good thing is that they had the exposure in Australia. They have played in almost all the pitches in different venues there. But playing in New Zealand will be different kettle of fish where the wickets will be totally different to Australia," said Venkatraghavan.
"Therefore, they have to adjust to the conditions in these two countries. In Australian conditions, I was pretty impressed with (Ajinkya) Rahane. But it is pity that Shikar Dhawan did not come up to expectations. "We have Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kholi. Virat is a matured player and he can dominate. So, the middle order looks good."
The former off-spinner spoke positive about Dhoni's batting and leadership. "Our captain is a vibrant and exuberant and Dhoni has come back in the side. He has proved his worth all the time." According to him, bowling is India's biggest worry. "The worry is our bowling. Our medium pacers are not consistently bowling good line and length. (They are) getting carried away by the bounce and bowling short.
That is fodder for the Australian batsmen or anybody," Venkatraghavan said. "Our fielding has to help the bowlers. We have to improve our fielding by leaps and bounds. If you remember in 1983, one brilliant catch by Kapil Dev at mid wicket turned the whole tie. So, fielding can definitely win matches and the bowling too has to be supported." Venkatraghavan believes spinners will play a part in the big Australian grounds.
"Our spinners have a role to play in Australian grounds which are so huge and big. Depending on the condition of the pitches, we could play two spinners. New Zealand is different, there would be a tinge of green and it will seam. In such conditions Bhuvneshwar Kumar would play a big role. "I feel that this side has got the potential. I feel India has got a very good chance of entering the semi-finals."
Asked about frequent injuries to current pacers, the yesteryear cricketer who was part of India's famous spin quartet in the 70s, expressed surprise. "That is a bit surprising to me because if you look at the career of Kapil Dev, who played in country cricket and also Ranji Trophy, he never reported injury throughout his career. Our present day bowlers have to look after themselves," Venkatraghavan said.
"They have to be cricket fit rather than Olympic fit. I do believe that there is no point playing soccer and other games for training purposes before a game." This will be the first time since the 1992 World Cup that India will enter the tournament without the iconic Sachin Tendulkar.
"You cannot take away the cream from the milk when you talk about one's experience from a man like Sachin Tendulkar or for that matter Rahul Dravid or Saurav Ganguly and (VVS) Laxman. We had a fabulous batting line up at that particular point of time. I must say we had a luxury of batsmen. This team has got the potential but the players have to prove themselves," Venkatraghavan said.
Asked about winning and losing percentage of Indian teams of the past in ODIs, he said: "We did not lose matches badly. But we did not click at the right time. They did not know how to finish off. In one- day cricket there is no time to come back, therefore, these factors are important and should be borne in mind." Venkataraghavan said Kohli and Rohit Sharma will need to deliver as much as possible. "It is about time that Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli do the bulk of scoring consistently."