Mumbai: Australia's World Cup-winning captain Michael Clarke believes India's impressive bench strength has put it on course for domination for the next five-ten years.
Interacting with cricket historian Boria Majumdar at the launch of the latter's book, Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians, the 37-year old praised the Indian team management's 'horses for courses' selection policy.
"Look at the quicks that you see around in the IPL. The strength there is so strong. You work unbelievably hard in India as a fast bowler and you work your backside off to get wickets. But come England, Australia and those conditions...that's why India are a threat for becoming the best team in the world for not just one year but for the next five-ten years. Because their bench is so strong and the bench strength is so strong," Clarke said.
In the ongoing IPL, five Indian bowlers — Mayank Markande, Umesh Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Krunal Pandya — feature in the top-ten wicket-takers' list. Of these, Markande and Pandya have never played international cricket. The leading run-scorers' list has a more generous Indian presence, with seven homegrown players in top ten. Four among these — Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant, Ambati Rayudu, and Suryakumar Yadav — are yet to play Test cricket.
(Note: Stats before the start of Tuesday's match between Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad)
India coach Ravi Shastri also batted for the team's selection policy, and emphasised on the need to "play the pitch."
"You don't play the opposition, you play the pitch," he said.
"It (selection) has to be horses for courses many times. You can't please everyone in terms of selection because you are playing that pitch more than the opposition. If you can conquer the pitch, the rest will follow," the coach added.
In their recent tour to South Africa, spinners Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, who occupy fourth and fifth spots respectively in the ICC's Test bowlers' rankings, were overlooked for the limited-overs' leg of the series. Wrist-spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav were drafted in, and the duo starred with a combined tally of 33 wickets in the six-match series.
Clarke lauded India's move to not worry about players' reputation while deciding on their team combinations.
"You are dropping someone based on conditions, oppositions and gut instinct and all you try is to get the best XI to win that game of cricket. I think these guys and the leadership deserve a lot of credit for making those tough decisions," said Clarke.
"I feel Ashwin and Jadeja also deserve a lot of credit because of taking it on the chin. You watch Ashwin now. He has always bowled brilliant at the front of the hand and now he is bowling leg-spin to right-handers. He has gone away with the right attitude thinking 'Okay. How can I improve my game and go back into the team?' Whether it does or not is irrelevant but the fact that they are trying to get better is helping Indian cricket," he added.
Favourites for World Cup
Both Shastri and Clarke agreed that India have what it takes to lift their third World Cup next year. India's first title win in the quadrennial event came in 1983 in England, and they endured a 28-year wait before the second World Cup win came about, in 2011 at home. The team reached the last-four stage in the 2015 World Cup that was hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
"I am not one to take a backseat. Because the way the team has played, they believe they can win in any condition. For us, every condition is home," Shastri said of India's chances at the event.
Clarke, meanwhile, was impressed with team's positive attitude and conceded that the Virat Kohli-led side would be tough to stop in England.
"They are a brilliant team. Just listening to their attitude, they are halfway there," the Australian, who played in three World Cups and won the trophy twice, said.
"I believe this sport, particularly, is based on attitude. If you have confidence in your ability and your team's ability, you are halfway there. Having high expectations is one thing, but playing the way Ravi said, playing with freedom, is how you win big tournaments. You can win key moments in the game because you have confidence in your abilities. I think they are as good a team as any in the world across the three formats and if they have got that attitude, they are going to be tough to beat," he opined.