Former South African all-rounder Lance Klusener feels India have enough ammunition to tackle Pakistan in the mouth-watering clash between the two nations.
Since the inaugural edition of the World T20 tournament in 2007, India have faced Pakistan five times in the tournament overall and emerged victorious on all occasions. And, the Men in Blue will aim to maintain their winning record against the neighbours.
India have won the title once so far – which was in the inaugural edition in South Africa in 2007, under MS Dhoni‘s captaincy.
The 2021 T20 World Cup gets underway from October 17 in the UAE and Oman. The Super 12s round, at which stage the big teams will start their campaigns, begins from October 23 with a clash between South Africa and Australia.
TimesofIndia.com caught up with Klusener, who is the current head coach of the Afghanistan cricket team for an exclusive interview to talk about Team India’s title chances, India’s opening encounter vs Pakistan, Dhoni the mentor, Virat Kohli‘s last tournament as T20I captain, Virat’s possible T20I successor as India captain and much more.
India and Afghanistan are in the same group, alongside New Zealand and Pakistan. Your take on this group and how tough the matches will be…
We (Afghanistan) are looking forward to victory. It’s always great for us to be playing against the big nations. We don’t really get that opportunity too much in the fixtures that we’ve been having. For us to improve and for us to get better and for us to climb up the rankings, we need to be playing big teams like India, Pakistan, and New Zealand. We’re looking forward to that. It’s just important for us that we bring the best we can. We’re going to be under pressure, but if they have a wobbly day then we want to be putting those big teams under pressure.
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Would you tag this group as the ‘group of death’?
Every group is tough. I don’t think there’s one tougher than the other. There’s going to be some disappointment therefore for some good teams in either group. So, it’s important for us that we play well against those big teams and then we make sure that we’re not letting ourselves down when we play against the qualifiers as well. We need to be winning those. We have that opportunity to put one of those big teams under pressure on any given day. So yeah, it’s a tough group. It doesn’t matter what group we would have been in, we’ve got to play well. That’s World Cup cricket. They’re looking for a world champion and you need to be able to beat all the teams if you want to be the world champion.
India won the inaugural World T20 title in 2007 under MS Dhoni’s leadership. Do you think captain Virat Kohli, who will be giving up T20I captaincy after the mega tournament, can win his maiden ICC trophy with MS Dhoni as the team mentor?
That’s just the brilliance of India in the last 10 years or so is that they’ve started to be able to compete, not just at home, but around the world. And that’s been the one big thing that, for me, has made a huge, huge difference. Their batsmen are able to score runs overseas. Who would have thought that India would have had probably one of the best seam attacks in the world as well? I have huge respect and hats off to this Indian team where they’ve come from and where they are now.
Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni (AFP Photo)
It’s nice to have the experience of somebody like MS (MS Dhoni) who’s won a World Cup, rubbing off in the change room. However, Virat Kohli has got his own style and he’s got his own way of leading the team. We’ll be seeing a combination of Dhoni’s experience and Kohli’s aggression in the World Cup. They’ve got as good a chance as any one of those big teams to lift that trophy.
Your take on what effect MS Dhoni, the mentor, can have…
It’s (mentoring) very different. It’s like coaching. You can say all the right things and prepare all the right way, but at the end of the day, it’s up to those 11 players who walk onto the field and have to play. As soon as that team goes onto the field, as a coach or a mentor, you can’t really change things. You’ve got to rely a lot on people stepping up on the day. So, absolutely his (Dhoni’s) experience will be there. He will be able to give all that information, but as soon as that 11 walks onto the field, you are like a spectator like everybody else.
MS Dhoni (Reuters Photo)
You were one of the best all-rounders in international cricket at one time. Who according to you is the best all-rounder – Indian and overall, currently?
I always look a little bit biased (laughs). But from a seam-bowling all-rounder point of view, it is Ben Stokes. He is head and shoulders (above everyone else) in that department. Hardik Pandya has come a long long way. I’m a big fan of his and I think a lot of the success that India’s achieved of late since he’s been playing, has been the fact that he can be the glue between the end of the batters and the bowlers. He just seems to give teams a lot more options. For me, Hardik has been right up there. He’s had some good coaching; he’s had some good guidance in the Indian team.
Hardik Pandya is a big tournament player. But it has been a long time since we saw him bowl last. There seems to be a question mark over his participation now, at least as an all-rounder…
I’m really hoping that for whatever reason that he hasn’t bowled whether it’s injury or whether it’s just the fact that there are other options, it’s important that his bowling continues to be worked on and developed. That’s really important. He shouldn’t just slip into that mode of a batsman that bowls part-time. He’ll be able to add a lot more if he’s more active with the ball. Let’s hope that we can see a little bit more of him.
Hardik Pandya (Photo by Surjeet Kumar/Getty Images)
Who in your opinion will be the key players for Team India in the T20 World this time?
Rohit (Sharma) is always there in the mix. He is always in the fight. He is somebody who stands up big in ICC tournaments. Rishabh Pant as well. India are so so lucky that they have got somebody like Rishabh Pant who has been able to take over from MS Dhoni. He is fantastic and he’s got a huge huge future in the team. In the bowling attack, Bumrah is always there. He is always a handful on any surface. There’s so much ammunition that India has got to choose from.
The Indian pace attack, overall these days, has the likes of Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Siraj, and Umesh Yadav. And now youngsters like Avesh Khan, Chetan Sakaria, Kartik Tyagi, Akash Singh, Arshdeep Singh, Shivam Mavi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti and others seem to be ready to be given a chance at the next level. Is the current Indian pace battery that India has the best in the world according to you?
The Indian fast bowling has come a long long way. When Venkatesh Prasad and Javagal Srinath used to pay, in those days there wasn’t really too much backup for those guys. But now it’s just incredible to see that a crop of youngsters is coming up. There’s a lot of focus on developing fast bowlers, those quality fast bowlers in India. I think the IPL has helped a lot to fast-track those youngsters as well. But, yes, probably in the subcontinent conditions here in the UAE, I think India’s pace attack is going to be a handful for any team that they play against.
India will be kicking off their World T20 campaign against Pakistan in the Super 12 stage. Who, according to you, will have an upper hand in this high-octane clash?
India vs Pakistan is always a huge huge game. This clash is not the one to be missed, especially in big competitions like World Cups. The Pakistan team has come a long way of late. They’ve produced some excellent batters. Their bowling will always be competitive. Virat Kohli and his team have got too much ammunition for them. However, if India has a bit of an off day and Pakistan brings their best game, they can easily cause an upset. I feel, possibly, India’s got too much ammunition for a team like Pakistan. However, we know how unpredictable they (Pakistan) are and how exciting they are to watch. So, it’s a very difficult one to call, but if Pakistan shows up and has a good day, they can beat any team in the world.
MS Dhoni, Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli (AFP Photo)
The 2021 T20 World Cup format is quite a tough one isn’t it? Only 4 of 12 teams will qualify for the knockouts…
Yes, it is a tough format, with only 4 teams going through. I would have liked to have seen maybe another round in there. Maybe six teams, maybe like quarterfinals. However, at the end of the day, as I said earlier, it is a World Cup, you want your best teams playing in those games. Personally, I would have liked to have seen another round in there. However, it is a World Cup and your best team is always going to get through, it doesn’t matter how many rounds there are. I’m not sure what the thinking was. But I always like to see a quarterfinal and it’s a little bit more of an achievement. It makes it very difficult for some of the better teams that are not going to get out of that qualifying stage.
Be it the 50 over or 20 over World Cup, South Africa start well, but always fall short of winning a title. Do you think they can break the jinx this time?
Yes, they can. We shouldn’t be writing any teams off. They’re also in a difficult group just as we (Afghanistan) are. They’re also in a tough group. The question around them is probably the same as Afghanistan: can we score enough runs in the competition? Afghanistan have got a decent bowling attack, pretty much like South Africa. They have also got a decent attack. The questions around them are going to be about their batting.
Virat will be giving up India’s T20I captaincy after this T20 World Cup. Rohit Sharma is the front runner for the big job. If you had to pick Virat’s successor, who would that be and why?
I see a guy like Rishabh Pant being an Indian captain one day. He’s still a bit young, possibly. We might see Rohit doing it for a while. I think just in terms of letting somebody else stand up and be a head and shoulders pick to succeed Virat might mean Rohit doing it for a little while. Rohit can do it while somebody grows or somebody comes through and becomes a clear candidate to do that job. Virat has been amazing. His passion is incredible. However, it’s his choice to move on and that creates a lovely opportunity for somebody else. I just see a younger captain that can be there for a while and have that continuity. So, I don’t think there’s anybody that’s clearly standing up. So, we might just see Rohit doing it for a while until there’s somebody that can nail down that captaincy spot.
Rishabh Pant and Virat Kohli (AP Photo)
Your own personal favourite cricketing moment from your career…
It will be the 1999 World Cup. The way that tournament worked out for me, that huge semifinal game that we played. It might not be a joyous occasion in terms of actually winning the game and going through to the final but what a wonderful spectacle of cricket to have been part of. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it will always be something that is going to be part of my memory as well. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us but just to be a part of one of the top three or five games of all time is fantastic.