New Delhi: Coach Aunshuman Gaekwad says the all-rounders are the backbone of the 14-member Indian cricket team. "Our main strength is the number of all-rounders in the team," he told India Abroad News Service on the eve of the team's departure for Nairobi to take part in the International Cricket Council's (ICC) Knock Out tournament. There are six players in the side who can be called all-rounders. India will play Kenya in the tournament opener on October 3 in the first of the three qualifying matches. If India win, they will meet Australia in the next match. Sri Lanka play West Indies (Oct. 4) and England takes on Bangladesh (Oct. 5) in the other qualifying matches.
All 10 Test-playing nations and hosts Kenya are participating in what has now become an annual tournament to raise money for the development of the game. Gaekwad felt that it made little difference whether India played Kenya or any other team first. "It does not matter," he said. He is also not worried at the prospect of facing Australia as the second opponent. Asked to compare the team whose reins he handed over to Kapil Dev in September last year with the present one, Gaekwad said: "This team is younger than the one which I coached. Moreover, this one is a better fielding side." He made a special mention of Hemang Badani and Youvraj Singh.
The former India opening batsman admitted that he had not seen Singh in action before the preparatory camp in Chennai. "But I spoke to (Roger) Binny and also chairman of selectors Chandu Borde (to know more about him)," Gaekwad said. "It was good a camp." The team has seven left-handers, including the comeback man Vinod Kambli. So, is it an advantage? "It is both an advantage and not, depending how you see it," explained Gaekwad. "It depends on a particular situation - for instance, let us see what the pitch conditions like over there are."
Explaining about his decision to take over the team for the two One-day tournaments (the Sharjah triangular will follow Nairobi), Gaekwad said he was not ready to come back as a stopgap coach but for the special request made by the Board of Control for Cricket in India president Dr A C Muthiah. "Now since I have taken over, I will give it my best shot," he said. One of the first ones to arrive in the city, Gaekwad looked relaxed in his hotel room as he checked with each player if he had received his team uniform.
The squad: Saurav Ganguly (captain), Rahul Dravid (vice-captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Vinod Kambli, Hemang Badani, Yuveraj Singh, Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi, Zaheer Khan, S. Sriram, Robin Singh (senior), Ajit Agarkar, Venkatesh Prasad and Vijay Dahiya (wicket-keeper). India Abroad News Service