By Sahil Kohli
New Delhi (India), November 2 (ANI): Former Australian all-rounder Shane Watson on Thursday lauded Team India for their undefeated run in the ICC Cricket World Cup at home and went on to compare the current Indian squad with Australia’s 2003, and 2007 World Cup winning sides for how dominant they have been without “any weaknesses”.
India will take on Sri Lanka in their ICC Cricket World Cup match at Wankhede Stadium on Thursday. Men in Blue are undefeated so far, with six wins in six matches while SL is struggling, having won only two of their six games.
In an interview with ANI ahead of the game, Watson discussed India’s World Cup run, Australia’s World Cup performances and middle-order batting, Virat Kohli chasing Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 ODI tons and Legends League Cricket.
“India has been so dominant. It is super impressive to watch a team with no weaknesses. With Hardik Pandya, it is a fully complete package. Without Hardik, it means that they had to bring two players. Hardik is such a gun medium-pace bowling all-rounder and two players in one. But as a positive, Mohammed Shami got the opportunity and made the most of it. He has been bowling amazingly well. If Hardik comes back, they might have to make decision between Mohammed Siraj and Shami. It is a blessing for India to potentially make that call. That is an embarrassment of riches really if they have to make that call truly because Siraj has also bowled nicely in the tournament,” said Watson to ANI.
Shami (nine wickets in two matches with a best of 5/54 against New Zealand) has been super impressive in just two WC games played so far. He also took 4/22 against England. Shami’s average is 8.44 and the economy rate is just 4.47. Siraj has taken six wickets in six matches, with the best figures of 2/50. Siraj’s average is a massive 48.33 and the economy rate is 5.85.
Watson drew parallels between the current Indian line-up and Australia’s 2003 and 2007 Cricket World Cup-winning sides. Watson was the part of 2007 WC winning side.
“After their (India’s) first two games, it reminded me of Australia’s 2003 and 2007 World Cup teams. These teams had no real weaknesses and went undefeated throughout the tournament. They were so dominant and you could see why. No teams could expose them. Currently, all Indian players are at their best. Ravindra Jadeja is bowling really well under spin-friendly conditions. Kuldeep is bowling the best he ever has in ODI cricket. Jasprit Bumrah is a freak of nature with all the skill he has, no matter what conditions and situations. The batters are in fine form,” he said.
Watson said that currently, Australia looks to be the only team that could beat India.
“But India play at their best, it would be very hard for Australia to beat India. It would be impossible to beat them if all their (India) players turn up like they have so far,” cautioned Watson.
Talking about Virat Kohli chasing Sachin’s record of 49 ODI tons, Watson said that it is absolutely mind-blowing.
“Virat has been absolutely incredible to watch. He has been at his absolute best for the most part of his career. There was only a small period of 18 months where he had a dry run. He is a human after all and such things are expected. But since then, the way he has come back over last 12 months, bat and chase runs as well he does, it has been a marvel to watch. The fact that he is coming close to 50 ODI tons is mind-blowing,” said Watson.
Virat has scored 354 runs in six matches of WC 2023 so far, at an average of 88.50, with one century and three fifties. He is the seventh-highest run-maker so far.
Watson said that Virat’s statistics as a run-chaser give him an edge over Sachin in ODIs.
“The thing with Sachin is that when he scored big runs, it still did not mean that India won all their matches. Though it also comes down to the talent and calibre in the team. When Virat scored big, India won most of their matches. Yes, it comes down to how they scored, when they scored and talent, but I will say that Virat’s chasing, him chasing to win, is definitely better. He has 27 centuries (while chasing) and an average of over 90 (while chasing successfully). Sachin averages just over 50 while chasing, which is still fantastic. That statistic places Virat a little bit over Sachin, gives him the edge, even though highs of both these players are as high they could be,” said Watson.
On Australia’s current performance, Watson said that Australia is currently in a great place, but he was concerned with the five-time champions’ scratchy side to the tournament, which saw them lose to India and South Africa in their first two matches.
“Australia is in a great place right now. Things started off really scratchy for them. I was worried after those two games that our campaign could go like what England is facing now. We looked a bit tired, did not look we were up for a contest, we were sluggish on-field and skill execution was off. But since then, it has been a great turn around since that game against Sri Lanka and it is still going on. They are playing the way they are truly capable of playing with all that skill, experience and calibre in the squad. I am confident in the way they are playing, be it batting or bowling first,” said Watson.
“It is a team that India fears the most in a knockout match because of their world-class players, who have won big tournaments before. Australia knows how to big matches and tournaments, with all the experience. I am very excited the way they are playing. When you see players playing at their best, you feel good because this is everything you want. You want that intensity and desperation to be the best,” he added.
Watson said that even though Glenn Maxwell will miss the next match against England due to a concussion and Mitchell Marsh has flown back to India for personal reasons, England will have to play very differently to beat a depleted Australia.
“Next game Glenn Maxwell is missing due to a mishap (Concussion at golf course) and Mitchell Marsh has flown back home due to personal reasons. Hopefully, things will get back on track. Even when Maxwell and Marsh are missing, England will have to play like totally different human beings to beat Australia at this point, with the way they are playing,” he said.
Australia is in third place with four wins, two losses and eight points. England, the defending champions have possibly performed the worst title defence ever, with just one win in six matches so far.
On the performance of Australian middle-order, Watson voiced out that his biggest concern with the team currently is the movement of the batting order and the challenge of setting roles for each player. He was also critical of Marsh for his slow knock against New Zealand.
The all-rounder also backs batting all-rounder Marcus Stoinis to provide some explosiveness and balance the middle order. He also said that Steve Smith should bat at number three.
“My biggest concern is the movement of the batting order. That was always going to happen with Travis Head coming back from injury and Mitchell Marsh moving down to number three. Travis is extremely dominant opening the batting. The biggest thing for Marsh to get his head around is that even when he faces spin, he will have to show the same aggressive intent that he shows while opening. That is when he is at his best. In the last match (against NZ), he soaked a lot of balls and tried to rotate the strike which is not simply his game. If this is what he is going to do, he should not bat at number three. Steve Smith should bat at number three, he is better at rotating strike against spin, finding certain areas to hit boundaries against it,” he said.
Watson said that Smith and Marnus Labuschagne have to understand their roles and play according to situations.
“Smith and Labuschagne have to understand what their role is according to situations and adapt accordingly. For me, that is where Marcus Stoinis plays such a big role coming back. If someone has to be moved out of the team between Smith and Labuschagne, it has to be Labuschagne most probably. When you have got 4-5 Smiths and Labuschagnes in the middle-order, it does not look balanced at all. Your two players, who are good at rotating strike, can get stuck at times. So that is where Stoinis provides more balance to the line-up. A few guys are batting at their most comfortable position and understand their roles. This is the biggest challenge Australia faces, the roles and where people fit,” he said.
The all-rounder pointed out that the Indian line-up is settled for the most part.
“India does not face this issue (of roles) at the time. Their batting line-up is set. Suryakumar comes at number six for a specific role. The top five is very clear about their roles and look settled. When it comes to a knockout game, when you have got more continuity in roles of your players, it gives you an upper hand over your opponents to make pressure. This is my biggest concern with the Australian side,” said Watson. (ANI)