Yuvraj backs Pandya to give India a World Cup edge

NEW DELHI: Former captain Kapil Dev yesterday pegged India as one of the top three favourites to win the World Cup, which starts later this month, saying their pace bowling would come good in seaming English conditions.

India open their campaign against South Africa on June 5 in Southampton with an eye on clinching their third title in the 50-over showpiece event.

"Winning team looks like India, England and Australia and surprise package can be New Zealand," the Indian World Cup-winning skipper told reporters at a promotional event in New Delhi.

Kapil Dev

"India has the combination of youth and experience. They have the right balance in four fast bowlers, three spinners and two big names in Virat Kohli and (M.S.) Dhoni," he said.

India's pace battery is led by Jasprit Bumrah, the world's top bowler in the one-day format, and includes Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya.

Bumrah has been hailed for his ability to bowl yorkers at the death, while Shami and Kumar have also impressed. "They are fantastic, very good. English conditions will help them. They can swing the ball," said Dev, known as "Haryana Hurricane" during his playing days for his pace.

"They have Bumrah and Shami who can bowl 145 (kmph) plus. So we have swing, we have pace. That's a very good combination to have."

Dev, who led India to their maiden World Cup in 1983 when his side beat two-time champions West Indies to take the trophy at Lord's, said it was the "belief" which separated winners from the rest.

Dev slammed comparisons between him and star all-rounder Pandya who has impressed with his power hitting in the team's middle order and skills as a medium-pace bowler.

The 25-year-old Pandya, who is set to play his first 50-over World Cup, has earned his place in the Indian XI with 731 runs and 44 wickets in 45 ODIs since making his debut in 2016.

"He is an upcoming player… Please do not pressure him. He is a young talent, let him play his cricket with his own free mind," said Dev.

When quizzed about the on-field chemistry between former captain Dhoni and Kohli, Dev said both the players were crucial to India's World Cup hopes.

"Both the cricketers have done so well for India, unmatchable. First, all of them should understand that they are not playing for themselves but playing for the country."

All-rounders will play a key role at the upcoming 50-overs World Cup in England and Wales and India could have one of the best in Hardik Pandya, 2011 player-of-the-tournament Yuvraj Singh has told Reuters.

Yuvraj scored 362 runs and 15 wickets as India won the World Cup for the second time in 2011 and the 37-year-old believes the rules of this year's edition will make those players who can contribute with both bat and ball even more valuable.

A maximum of four fielders will be allowed outside the 30-yard circle between overs 10 to 40, making it difficult for captains to stack their teams with frontline batsmen and rely on part-timers to pitch in with the bowling. "It's a five-fielder rule and part-timers don't get away with that kind of bowling, it's going to be tough to bowl the sixth bowler," Yuvraj told Reuters in an interview.

"But if you go with five (frontline) bowlers, then you know somebody has to bowl four to five overs maximum. If somebody is not bowling well, then someone has to chip in."

Yuvraj was confident seam-bowling all-rounder Pandya can execute the role he played eight years ago to perfection when the 12th World Cup kicks off on May 30.

"I was actually having this conversation with him," the left-handed batsman said of his Mumbai Indians team mate Pandya.

"I told him that 'you have a great chance of performing really well with the ball and bat', the kind of form he is in at the moment. Definitely, the way he is batting at the moment, it is phenomenal and I hope he carries that form.

"He has been bowling well in patches but as I said it is all about how you handle the pressure… I just hope that Hardik has an awesome tournament."

After going through the most difficult period of his fledging career in the past few months, during which he had to deal with injury problems and controversy off the field, Pandya has been back to his best in the Indian Premier League.

The 25-year-old has been a vital cog in Mumbai's march to the final of the Twenty20 tournament, scoring runs at a breathtaking strike rate of almost 200 and also picking up 14 wickets with his medium pace bowling.

In his heyday, Yuvraj was one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in the game-as England's Stuart Broad found out when he was bludgeoned for six sixes in one over during the 2007 World Twenty20.

A veteran of three World Cups, Yuvraj is certain the wickets in England and Wales will allow a continuation of the trend towards high scoring at World Cups.

India's wristspin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav have had lot of success in the recent past and Yuvraj implored the Virat Kohli-led side to include two spinners in their side during the quadrennial tournament.

"I feel we need to go with our strength," Yuvraj added at an event to launch MoneyGram's microsite through which fans would be able to send wishes to their teams for the World Cup.

"Our strength is that our spinners have been successful against South Africa, Australia and England and we should go with that. I would say go with our four best bowlers and fifth is Hardik."

The format for the May 30-July 14 tournament has also seen a change from the previous years with all 10 teams playing each other before the top four advance to the semi-finals.

Recalling India's exit from the 2007 World Cup in West Indies when the side departed at the group stage having lost two out of three matches, Yuvraj felt the new format would allow teams a shot at redemption.

"Playing everybody and nine games will definitely be tougher (but) it's actually going to work in both ways," he said.

"It's tougher, yes, but you also have an opportunity to bounce back. We lost the 2007 World Cup and suddenly we felt that we needed more games. Those times there was no opportunity to bounce back." - Agencies