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Asian Games: India men’s team is a very strong side; expect them to come back with the gold medal, says WV Raman

IANS | September 26, 2023 11:31 AM

NEW DELHI: On September 25, riding on 73-run partnership between Smriti Mandhana and Jemimah Rodrigues, followed by a sensational spell of 3-6 from Titas Sadhu, the Indian women’s team clinched the first-ever gold medal for the country in cricket at the Asian Games.

The focus now shifts on the Ruturaj Gaikwad-led side to make it two out of two gold medals for India in cricket at the multi-sport event. WV Raman, the former India men’s cricketer who served as head coach of women’s team, speaks exclusively to IANS in an interaction organised by Sony Sports Network on the team, challenges it can face, Gaikwad as a leader, learnings cricketers will take from the event and more.

Excerpts

Q. Could you talk about your initial analysis of the Indian men’s team selected for the Asian Games?

A. What is this suddenly happening there? So many (batting) left-handers. I'm glad about it though. But still there's been a view that's been floating around which says that ‘not enough left-handers in the main side’ and here you see about six-seven left-handers. You got (Yashasvi) Jaiswal, Rinku (Singh), Shahbaz (Ahmed) Tilak Varma, plus Venkatesh Iyer in the stand-bys.

It never ends, is it? There are quite a lot of left-handers, and in fact it will be easy to talk about right-handers, as the topic will end soon. But keeping light-hearted things apart, it's a very good side. It's a strong side as well because all of them have been really doing well in all formats that they've been playing - be it the IPL, domestic cricket or sporadic appearances for the main side. They've been doing really well, so it's a very strong side and quite obviously I would expect them to come back with the gold medal.

Q. In the team, there are players like Yashasvi, Tilak, Mukesh Kumar, and Rinku Singh who did well in their initiation into T20Is this year. How do you think having a good entry into international cricket will help them to excel in this competition?

A. The basic idea is to try and keep honing their competitive edge as it were. It’s because if you have played for the country and then suddenly you don't play competitive cricket for a while, then obviously it's like starting from scratch. But I think the basic idea is to try and keep themselves going in competitive cricket.

Yes, nothing like playing international cricket. But this is also international cricket in a way. If you're talking about playing against sites from within the subcontinent, you will get a good workout, mentally, technically, and tactically. It’s because most of the sides that you come across at different levels from within the subcontinent are quite strong and talented, so it'll be very competitive.

So there's no harm in making these guys play in the Asian Games. Even though they played for the country, it'll only keep them alert and in the loop so that in case any of these cricketers are required for the senior side, then it becomes easy for them because the selectors and team management will be aware of what it is they've been doing recently.

Q. This team is going to be captained by Ruturaj Gaikwad, who recently made a fine 71 against Australia in Mohali ODI. How do you see him faring in this leadership role?

A. What I see in Ruturaj Gaikwad is the ability to be able to play all three formats. I also see a good temperament in him, and he’s also come through the ranks step-by-step, which means that he's not been suddenly catapulted out of perhaps a good IPL season or two. He's played in all the formats for his state. He's been performing well and he also seems to be good at reading the game as a batter.

Yes, he's been doing that, but the fact that he belongs to CSK and he tracks quite a bit with MS (Dhoni) would have enhanced his thinking and it also would've added to acumen, which is really good. I think he will make a good candidate as a leader and as a captain. I see him really playing all the formats for India in the future and also possibly, he may even go up to leading the side one day.

Q. The men’s T20 competition at the Asian Games is happening at a time when the Men’s ODI World Cup will be happening in India. Your opinion on India showing its capability of fielding two different squads in two competitions happening around the same time?

A. It gives us a measure of how strong the system is and gives us a measure of what kind of depth we have as far as talent is concerned in this country. It's also good that these cricketers are going to play in the Asian games and will get game time, as I said earlier. It’s because if they are not to be concurrent, who knows how many of them would've been going to play in the Asian games.

In a way, this is giving them opportunities and not making them stay idle for a period of time. The other side of the coin would be that obviously we would want the best team to play when India plays in the Asian games. But I don't see anything lacking in this side either. Even though it is perhaps rated as the next best team because the main team is playing the World Cup.

When you have a World Cup happening and you also have another tournament happening, it's obviously difficult for the best side to be present in both places. So this side is good enough and is possibly going to churn out a lot more players for the main team in the next cycle of the WTC.

Q. This is also the first time the side is participating in a men's cricket competition in the Asian Games. How do you see this group of players adjusting and soaking in the experience of being in a multi-sport event?

A. They'll get to learn a lot and the first thing that will be different for them is that they'll get to meet a lot of talented athletes and sports persons from across the country in other disciplines, which will also give them a lot of opportunities to interact and understand what goes on in the other sporting circles.

They've been obviously traveling for bilateral series or for a World Cup and they only get to interact with cricketers. But here it is a chance to interact with athletes from different sports. It will be a revelation for them because they get to see a lot of good things when they're going with their team and the people they're familiar with. But they will have to see what happens otherwise in life as well.

I say this from a personal experience, when we were on a tour of New Zealand in 1990, the Commonwealth games was happening then, and the entire contingent was traveling in the same flight. When we got to talking to them, there were a lot of things that we learned which would not have happened otherwise.

Similarly, this will also help the cricketers playing in the Asian games to understand what happens in other sports, what the facilities are like, as well as to understand what it is that they have and what it is that they don't have.

Also, they will also feel what it is to be in a different kind of atmosphere, like who knows the accommodation might be completely different to what they're used to. So all these things would provide for a lot of learnings and I'm sure being the sports persons they are, the cricketers will come out richer in every way after participating in the Asian games.

Q. What are the challenges you feel the Indian team will face from other major nations like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan?

A. This side will have to be aware of one thing - that there's a lot of talent in the other countries also. If they're going to be complacent, they're going to be taken by surprise. It's one thing that they're allowed to realise before they get onto the field of play. Yes, we do boast of rich talent in our country, but we cannot take the talent of other countries lightly as well.

We saw quality cricketers playing in that Emerging Asia Cup as well, even though the other countries resorted to sending a few cricketers who already played for their senior side in that tournament. Bangladesh, Afghanistan, all these countries have a lot of talent in their ranks.

So if our guys, I mean the Indian side, becomes a little bit complacent, they'll pay a huge price. That's the only challenge that I see otherwise in terms of the composition of the side, in terms of talent and relative cricketing experience, we really stack up well.

Q. This squad has two wicketkeeper-batters in Jitesh Sharma and Prabhsimran Singh. Who do you think will be the preferred pick for the competition from a finisher perspective?

A. You got Rinku Singh, so that's one slot straight away. Between Prabhsimran and Jitesh, I'll go for Jitesh, because Prabhsimran is more of an opener and he has to have runs under his belt; he has to really tonk the spinners. That's something that you can't really blame him for because he is used to opening right from his Under-16 days.

Jitesh Sharma has been fantastic not only in terms of his consistency, but also in terms of reading the situation and playing according to the situation, even though he might perhaps get to play anywhere between three to 20 deliveries. So, in all those situations that he's encountered in the IPL, he has done extraordinarily well. Also, personally, I feel that cricket and wicketkeeping skills wise, I think Jitesh at the moment will perhaps have an edge over Prabhsimran.

Q. How do you think a resource like Washington Sundar, who has been back to playing after recovering from a hamstring injury sustained in IPL 2023, should be utilised by the Indian team in the Asian Games?

A. I want to make a point here. We've been talking about lack of all-rounders, but here we have a very good potential all-rounder in Washington Sundar. Unfortunately, what has happened is, despite the fact that he's proved his batting credentials, time and again in all formats, in the limited opportunities he got, he is not being encouraged.

We have to try and utilize the resources we have to our best. It's only then we are going to get what we need, come the tough situations. Otherwise we'll still be talking about no all-rounders and finishers are there; no number four is there. It's a case of us utilising our resources to the best possible and it is going to give us what we need.

The live coverage of India's Asian Games men's cricket campaign will happen from October 3 on Sony Sports Network channels & will be streamed live on Sony LIV.

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