Playing ODIs will help us adapt to conditions before Tests: Dhoni
Team India faces one of its biggest challenges in recent times when it takes on the world No. 1 Test team in South Africa.
With batting legend Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement last month, the dawn of a new era in Indian cricket is here; a host of young players ready to stake claim to the Test squad.
If we consider the experience in the squad for the South Africa Test series, fast bowler Zaheer Khan is the most experienced, with 88 Test caps to his name. However, even he is making a comeback.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has featured in 79 Test matches and Ishant Sharma has played 51 Tests but is not assured of a place in the playing eleven.
The rest of the squad hardly has any experience of Test cricket and most of them have played only at home.
Taking this situation into account, Dhoni believes that playing the three-match ODI series before the Tests will prove beneficial for his team.
The squad lands in South Africa three days before the start of the first One-dayer, on December 5, in Johannesburg.
“Starting with the ODIs, it is always a help when you get to play the shots; you get rid of nerve factor, initially. We are playing three ODIs initially, the guys will be expressing themselves, playing shots and then they will be carrying it forward into the Test matches.
“The good thing is that there won’t be too many changes when you compare the Test squad to the ODI squad. Since the ODIs are before the Tests it will give us a little bit of time to adjust,” Dhoni said, in Mumbai on Sunday, the eve of the team’s departure for South Africa.
Image: MS Dhoni
'Our youngsters will learn a lot in the series'
He believes that the presence of an all-rounder like Jacques Kallis tilts the balance in South Africa’s favour.
“South Africa is a very good team. They are well-balanced in both ODIs and Test matches. They have a genuine all-rounder in their team because of which their strength increases. Like I said before it is going to be a very exciting series, it is a big phase for our youngsters where they will get to learn a lot and at the same time it will be a good platform to express themselves,” he said.
He also pointed out that the youngsters have played a lot of ODI cricket outside, which should prove beneficial.
“I think what’s fairly important is that they have good amount of exposure even though it’s ODIs outside India; that always helps you adjust to the pace and bounce of the wicket. So, I think, it will be a new challenge for all of them. At the same time, it is a learning curve. It’s the first time that they will be going there and they will learn a lot in the series,” Dhoni said.
India have been dominant at home, whitewashing Australia 4-0 and the West Indies 2-0 in successive Test series, but have been found wanting overseas. In their last two away series,
India were blanked 0-4 in successive series by England and Australia.
Image: Cheteshwar Pujara
'Pressure goes hand in hand with the Indian cricket team'
Asked if he is feeling the pressure ahead of another away series, Dhoni replied: “Whenever the Indian team goes abroad there is always a bit of interest when you speak about pressure. I remember, even if we play against any team, be it Ireland, it is always said that they are the underdogs and you are feeling some pressure because of it.
“Pressure goes hand in hand with the Indian cricket team and it doesn’t matter whether you are playing in India or abroad. And, as you said, we are going through a good patch, we are doing well, so we will take that confidence forward,” he added.
India's captain said he is yet to decide on the team composition in South Africa.
“It is something that we have to go there and decide. We have to see the strength of our batting line-up. At the same time whether four bowlers are good enough to get the opposition out. It is something that we have weigh out.
“In the last Test match also, we played with four bowlers, and Rohit [Sharma] was the one who batted at No 6. If you see, at times, five batsmen are not enough, even six are not enough. And if you see the last two Test matches, the No 6 batsman has had a lot of impact on the game. We will weigh how it is and then decide as to whether 3-1 combination is good enough or we have to play with 3-2,” he said.
On the recent smashing debuts of Rohit Sharma and Mohammed Shami, Dhoni said it is his job to back players and give them a platform to showcase their skills.
Image: MS Dhoni
'Gautam is definitely our third opener'
“All of us have opinions... like, may be there are a few individuals who are more god-gifted than some of the others. It is not for us to judge whether the individual is good or not. What we try and do is make it very simple -- if somebody is doing well in the domestic circuit and is consistent, he should be given an opportunity.
"It is not for us to decide whether he is good enough or not; it is up to him when we give the opportunity. Principally, this has really helped me, but, of course, often you feel if somebody is more talented than others then you try to give him an opportunity before some of the other players. Overall, and principally, it is important that we are not here to judge whether somebody is good or not, we are here to give opportunities and the person himself has to decide whether he is good enough or needs to do more work,” he said.
Dhoni said he is not bothered about not having enough time on hand to prepare and acclimatise ahead of the ODI series, which starts on December 5.
“I don’t know if it’s enough or not, but this is the only time we had on hand. We will try to have long practice sessions in the first one or two days that we have with us. We will have one light session before the match and that is how we will get ready for the ODIs. So, we have to get the best out of what we got,” he said.
He also provided a lifeline to out-of-favour opener Gautam Gambhir, saying he considers him as the third opener for the Test squad despite him not being picked for South Africa.
“Well, if you see, Gautam is definitely our third opener. That’s what we are considering and as of now. [Murali] Vijay and Shikhar [Dhawan] have done really well for us; so, the third opener as of now is Gautam,” he said.
Image: Gautam Gambhir
Photographs: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters