India is the best team at the World Cup… the others can’t handle as much pressure, says Sanjay Manjrekar

Sanjay Manjrekar says Virat Kohli’s side has the strongest temperament of all the contenders. But the former India batsman thinks the middle order could be vulnerable

Sanjay Manjrekar has a rather pleasant voice. It comes in handy when he occasionally sings Kishore Kumar songs and, more often, when he commentates on cricket.

He is one of the three Indian voices the ICC has hired for the World Cup in England (Sourav Ganguly and Harsha Bhogle are the others). Before moving behind the microphone, Manjrekar was admired for the technical virtuosity of his batting.

He finished his Test career with 2,043 runs at an average of 37.14. He was a much better player than those figures suggest.

He stopped playing two decades ago, but has remained an avid observer of the game. Recently at Jaipur, he spoke to The Hindu on a variety of topics, including the World Cup, the IPL, the future of Tests and cricket commentary. Excerpts:

How do you rate India’s chances at the World Cup?

India is the best team at the World Cup. Whether they win is another matter. When you are playing bilateral one-day matches there isn’t as much pressure, but a World Cup semifinal or final is an entirely different matter. That is where India is strong. Temperamentally it is the strongest side; the others cannot handle as much pressure.

You wanted Rishabh Pant in the side.

He should have been in the squad. The opposition is a little worried when Pant is around. He could have been played as a wild card. He certainly has the temperament. He has succeeded in Tests, so he is not somebody who will get overawed by the occasion.

Are you happy with the squad otherwise?

Yes. People are not excluded at the cost of someone very exciting. I have always maintained, even two months before the World Cup, whoever is picked at No. 4, India’s little vulnerability will be in the middle — Nos. 4, 5 and 6. So that will continue to be India’s little weakness in this World Cup. India’s strength lies in its top three and the seamers.

India has come a long way in pace bowling, from your playing days…

Certainly. I was particularly impressed by the pace Navdeep Saini clocked at this year’s IPL and the attitude shown by Prasidh Krishna and Khaleel Ahmed. A lot of exciting talents are coming up; they look temperamentally good, especially compared to the uncapped Indian batsmen this IPL. What has stopped India from becoming the genuine No. 1 Test team in the world until now has been the lack of three top quality bowlers. It is starting to change.

And they are bowling quicker than ever they did.

It has coincided with the improved fitness. If you have the height, bowling fast is a macho thing to do. That is what happened in Pakistan. They wanted to be a typical hero like Imran Khan.

How challenging was facing that Pakistan attack led by Imran?

That wasn’t as tough as against South Africa or Australia because of the pitches. The pitches in Pakistan were flat and edges to the slip were getting dropped. The West Indies fielders did not spill catches, but in Pakistan you had better chances of survival despite the quality of the bowling.

Do you think young batsmen today are trying to succeed in T20 at the expense of proper technique?

It is understandable. Why should you invest all your time and energy on a format that is increasingly going out of fashion? I can understand a lot of players wanting to become T20 stars, but there will be many who could be good at both. Test cricket is a format that has become extremely old-fashioned. It is very difficult for it to connect with today’s fans.

So are you worried about the future of Test cricket?

Broadcasters are not making money from Tests. When Kusal Perera played that innings [which lead Sri Lanka to a famous victory over South Africa at Durban in February], not many people were watching.

We all love Tests. Even if it is not completely a commercial enterprise, the people in power will ensure that Test matches always remain alive. T20 and other formats will fund it, because there is interest. And people remember Test performances. Cheteshwar Pujara’s three hundreds [in Australia] were noticed by the whole world.

Why did you choose to be a commentator and not, say, a coach?

I haven’t found anything else around cricket as appealing. I would not have been this long in the profession if I didn’t find it exciting. As for coaching, I can do it. When I was the captain of Mumbai for the last two or three years, I was more of coach/player. I was doing mentoring more. But the problem with coaching is that you are at the mercy of the players. In spite of your best efforts, if you don’t have a good team, you might lose your job. Commentary is more straightforward.

Who are the commentators you respect?

When I was a player, I didn’t listen to the commentary, unlike Ravi Shastri, who would listen to the broadcast from Australia when he was playing in the West Indies. Rather than watching, I just loved playing.

Nasser Hussain, I feel, is one of the best ever. Ian Chappell is someone who never opens his mouth unless he has something worthwhile to say. I also enjoyed listening to Bill Lawry, who was infectious.

There are some really good commentators like Simon Doull and Ian Bishop, who are the pillars of the IPL coverage.

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