Panesar feels some opposition teams might consider Thakur as a ‘bits and pieces’ cricketer, but all-rounder Shardul has all the weapons in his armoury to turn the game on its head.
India made one change to their ICC T20 World Cup 2021 squad while submitting their final list, including Shardul and leaving out Axar Patel.
TimesofIndia.com caught up with Panesar, who played 50 Tests, 26 ODIs and one T20I in his career between 2006 and 2013, to talk about India’s title chances, the mouth-watering India vs Pakistan clash, Virat’s chase of his maiden senior ICC title, MS Dhoni the mentor and much more.
How would you rate India’s chances in the T20 World Cup this time?
India are going to be strong favourites. They will be entering the tournament as title favourites. I reckon they will be making it to the final for sure. Virat is aiming for an ICC title win as captain. And he won’t leave this chance easily. This will be his last tournament as T20I captain and he is looking hungry for an ICC title.
(India will don a new jersey during the T20 World Cup in the UAE – Photo courtesy BCCI Twitter)
MS Dhoni has been appointed as mentor of the Indian team for the T20 World Cup. How big an impact will he have?
Bringing Dhoni on board as a mentor is Virat’s decision. He must have said…look this is my last World Cup as T20I captain, last time that I will be leading the side, I have played under Dhoni and learnt from him. He wanted a nice memory. He wants to finish on a high, that’s why he brought in Dhoni as a mentor. He wanted Dhoni by his side while chasing his maiden ICC trophy. And also, Dhoni is not charging anything, which is so good to see. He is a legend of the game. Virat wants his presence and I am sure these two guys Dhoni and Virat together will do wonders for Team India in the World Cup.
A senior ICC trophy is missing from Virat’s cabinet. Can the man with the midas touch – MS Dhoni – help Virat break that jinx?
Yes, very much. Dhoni knows how to win tournaments. He will be a guiding force for Virat from the dressing room. Virat and Dhoni together have won many matches for India and they know each other very well. In fact, Virat has huge respect for Dhoni. Dhoni knows how to win big games and Virat would want to pick those tactics and pick Dhoni’s brains. He would want to lead the way Dhoni did in World Cups and big tournaments. They both together will make plans and win the games.
(BCCI have roped in Dhoni as Team India’s mentor – Photo courtesy BCCI Twitter)
What’s your take on Team India’s final squad?
I thought Harshal Patel, the top wicket-taker in the IPL, would make it but he didn’t. It is because India have covered their bowling department anyway. India have gone with experience in the team. Ashwin, Jadeja, Rohit are the players who can turn the tables for India and they have huge experience. Chahal and Shikhar didn’t make it – that was surprising. But India covered all their basics right and they are looking so good. Virat and Dhoni went with experience on their side.
India will be opening their T20 World Cup campaign this time with a clash vs Pakistan. India have a 5-0 record against Pakistan in this tournament, can they make it 6-0?
Pakistan are really good on UAE tracks. They have a good bowling lineup with Shaheen Afridi in the side. They have a solid batting lineup with Babar Azam in the side. They have all the basics covered. You just can’t predict Pakistan. Only Pakistan can beat Pakistan. On their day, they can beat any team in the world. Pakistan are really motivated this time and wouldn’t spare any team. But India will have an upper hand, considering their overall records against Pakistan. Pakistan will be under pressure, not India.
The key players who can turn the tables for both India and Pakistan…
For me, it will be Ashwin. He has got so much unpredictability. And Ravindra Jadeja. He is a game-changer with both bat and ball. He had a wonderful tournament with Chennai Super Kings. Both of them are going to be key campaigners, because Ashwin can be wonderful in the powerplay and also in the death overs. He has done so well. If Jadeja and Ashwin perform well, India will win the T20 World Cup. For Pakistan, Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi. Shaheen is a wonderful left-arm seamer and he will eye more and more Indian wickets. I am sure Virat and KL Rahul have enough practice against the left-arm seamers. If India bowlers get rid of Babar Azam early, they can destroy Pakistan like a pack (house) of cards.
England won the last 50-over World Cup. Do you think they can add another silverware to their cabinet?
England won’t have Ben Stokes in the World Cup. It’s a big big loss for them. The likes of Moeen Ali need to perform the way he did in the IPL. He needs to take that form into the World T20. He needs to do well. If he doesn’t do well, England will have a bad time in the tournament. Moeen will be the key man for England. I would pick Adil Rashid as well. Rashid is a wicket-taker in crucial situations. He too needs to click for England. Spin is going to play a big role in the UAE and these two guys will be the key players for captain Eoin Morgan.
According to you, who can be Virat’s trump card in this tournament and why?
Virat’s trump card will be Shardul Thakur. He is a guy who brings surprises with both bat and ball. Virat will be looking at Shardul in the tournament. And I am hundred percent confident trump card Shardul will win the World Cup for Virat. That’s why they have included him in the squad because he is a match-winner. The opposition considers him a “bits and pieces” cricketer. He is another Manoj Prabhakar for India. But I would compare Shardul with Ben Stokes. He is a match-winner and is going to surprise a lot of players in the tournament.
There are no quarter-finals. Only 4 teams go through to the knockouts after the Super 12s. How difficult is this format going to be for the teams?
It is going to be very tough. There are a lot of surprises that can come up. But India are looking stronger than England, Australia and New Zealand. These four teams can make it to the semis.
(File image of Hardik Pandya and MS Dhoni – TOI Photo)
Will Hardik Pandya not bowling impact India’s chances?
If Hardik Pandya is in the Indian team, he needs to be batting and bowling. He just can’t go to the middle and only bat. If he is not bowling, Virat should include Shardul Thakur in the team (playing XI). India are looking for a genuine all-rounder and that’s why India looked towards Hardik Pandya. Hardik needs to find a way to keep himself fit and keep things in the right direction. If he needs to stay in the team, he needs to bat and bowl and he needs to properly fit in.
Rohit Sharma is the man most likely to take over the T20I captaincy reins from Virat Kohli. Anyone else who you think should also be considered?
Rishabh Pant should become India’s T20I captain. He has done really well in the IPL and for Delhi Capitals. The maturity he has shown, the way he handled pressure-cooker situations is amazing. He is very calm and he is just brilliant. He learnt this art from MS Dhoni. Dhoni has played a big role in making Rishabh Pant a perfect wicketkeeper and captaincy material. Rohit is 34 and I am sure he is ready to captain. But if India are looking at the future, then Rishabh Pant is the best man. Rishabh Pant should become a future captain for India.
Whenever MS Dhoni retires from the IPL, who should become the next CSK captain, according to you?
Moeen Ali is the best man to replace Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain once he (Dhoni) leaves. He will be a good captain. The way he performed in the IPL was outstanding. He has done really well in both roles – batsman and bowler. Moeen Ali will be a superb captain for Chennai Super Kings.