He was an important member of the Indian team that toured South Africa for the first time in 1992. Manoj Prabhakar left a mark in that historic tour, scoring a half-century opening the innings in Cape Town. He took 4 wickets in the drawn test match at Johannesburg. The former all-rounder from Delhi, in an exclusive interview with the CrickerSoccer, tells why India failed to play to the expectations in South Africa and how over dependence on Virat Kohli is hurting India’s chances.
Here are the excerpts:
CricketSoccer (CS): After winning 9 consecutive test series, India’s dream run comes to an end with the loss against South Africa at Centurion. What went wrong?
Manoj Prabhakar (MP): To be very honest, India were not ready to play with the Kookaburra ball. See, India have been playing with the SG test ball for a long time as they played on home soil. But in South Africa, they are facing Kookaburra ball. Now you have to understand the difference between the SG Test ball and the Kookaburra ball. Kookaburra ball generally swings a lot during the first 20 overs. But after that, it becomes easy for the batsman to play their game. If you can play the first 20 overs with ease, the advantage is yours. If you analyse India’s batting in the first 2 test matches, you will find out that our batsmen struggled in the first 20 overs. None of our 3 openers did well and we lost early wickets. Cheteshwar Pujara, the number 3 batsman also struggled and South Africa had a grip over the match once the first 20 overs are finished. Significantly, South African batsmen also struggled in the initial 20 overs. But our bowlers could not cash in. That’s the basic difference between the two teams.
CS: You used to open the innings in South Africa in the 1992 tour. What is missing in the current Indian opening pair’s batting?
MP: They don’t know how to leave the ball. It’s one thing that you must master if you dream to do well outside the subcontinent. Murali Vijay is technically more sound than the other two, I mean Shikhar Dhawan and K. L. Rahul. But he too was attempting shots in almost every delivery. I still remember that Sunil Gavaskar used to tell, give the first one hour to bowlers. And then the day is yours. This is the ultimate proverb for all playing test cricket. At the same time, Indian batsmen couldn’t show confidence while using their feet. No Indian batsman was seen to play with full stretched legs. Rather, they seem to stuck at the crease. If you see the types of dismissals, most of the batsmen were plumb in front of the wickets or caught at the slip cordon. But look at AB de Villiers. Whenever he attempted a shot, he stretched out his legs. That’s the only way out to get success against quality swing bowling.
CS: But Virat Kohli scored a century in Centurion…
MP: Virat is such a batsman who can adapt to the situation very quickly. He belongs to a different league altogether. He has proved why he is considered to be one of the best. But the problem is that the current Indian team is very much dependent on Virat. It’s hurting the team. Look, there are some cricketers whom the team looks upon as the saviour. There was Gavaskar, there was Sachin Tendulkar who had had to bear the burden of the team almost in every match that they played. But even Gavaskar had a Dilip Vengsarkar, Gundappa Viswanath and Mohinder Amarnath. Sachin had one Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman to give him support. But Kohli has none. It’s not a good picture for Indian cricket. Cricket cannot be a one-man show.
CS: Do you support Ishant Sharma’s inclusion in the playing XI in Centurion?
MP: It was decided by the team management and it’s really difficult to tell what was the purpose behind this decision. Yes, dropping Bhubaneswar Kumar was a bit surprise for everyone. But Ishant bowled well.
CS: You worked with Ishant during the Ranji Trophy. Any suggestions that you gave to him…
MP: Yes we have some good sessions at the Delhi state team net. I observed that he was releasing the ball wider from the stumps. I suggested Ishant come a bit closer to the stumps so that it enhances the chance of befooling the batsman. He worked on it and it came fruitful for him.
CS: How would you rate Indian pacers’ performance in the ongoing series in South Africa?
MP: All the seamers have impressed me. They have swing, they have pace. But they have to be more consistent in terms of line and length. If you bowl 5 tight deliveries and then give a lose one, there is no chance that you create pressure on the batsman. I personally feel that Md. Shami is the key weapon in the current Indian pace bowling line up and he could have done better in the first two matches.
CS: And what about South African pacers?
MP: All of them are doing great. I’m quite impressed to see the way Lungi Ngidi has bowled in Centurion. Vernon Philander is more than excellent. Indian batsmen never feel comfortable in front of quality swing bowling and Philander just hit at the right area. The protea bowling unit doesn’t give you chance to think that Dale Steyn is out of the series.
CS: How are you seeing India’s chances to prove a point or two in the final test?
MP: Frankly speaking, I don’t think that they can win the last match. But yes, they have to be positive. They have nothing to lose. They should play aggressive cricket so that they can achieve at least some sort of relief before the ODIs.