'World Cup is being played in India and we're expected to win'
There is nothing bigger than the World Cup in cricket. And if the mega-event is played in India, then nothing beats the country's crazy fan-following.
The whole nation wants just one result: an India triumph. If the team achieves that goal, the already demigod status of the players touches new heights; if it does not, their effigies are burnt and houses stoned.
Thus, it was but natural that India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni dwelled on the hype and expectations of the team ahead of the tournament, beginning February 19.
"A lot of hype is always created around the World Cup, but I know that every series that we play we have a lot of expectations. This time the World Cup is being played in India and we are expected to win. The atmosphere was much the same when we went for the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. The expectations will always be there, but it won't be right to consider this as the final frontier," he affirmed, in Bangalore, on Thursday.
Image: Indian players celebrate after winning a match
'In 2007 we didn't play good cricket'
Talking about the hurt of being knocked out in the first round in the previous edition of the tournament, Dhoni confessed: "I think the 2007 World Cup took us slightly longer to get over the defeat, because we were not playing cricket for some time after the tournament. The only way to get out of a depression is to get out on the field and play. It took us nearly a month, because the next series we played was in Bangladesh after a month. I think that was the duration it took us to get out of it."
He, however, refused to compare the current team with the one that played in the 2007 World Cup.
"Those 45 days in the 2007 World Cup we didn't play good cricket. Apart from that, both teams -- (then and now) -- look really good. Before that World Cup, the 2007 team also did really well ahead of the tournament, but in the tournament we did not play good cricket, whatever the reasons may be.
"As far as the talent is concerned, both the teams are really good, but it is not just talent that always matters. We always have to go on the field and start from the scratch and give a good performance," he said.
Image: Indian players react after losing a match at World Cup 2007
'I am a big fan of 50-over cricket'
Aficionados of the game say this World Cup will be the litmus test for the future of One-Day Internationals, but Dhoni believes the 50-over version will survive along with the two other formats.
"I am a big fan of 50-over cricket, because Test matches we have to wait for five days, and T20 cricket things happen in five overs. I am a big fan of the 50-over version because it is a mix of Test and T20 format.
"If you lose quick wickets and are three-four down in the first 15 overs then you see a glimpse of Test cricket -- a couple of batsmen battling it out for runs and in the last five or seven overs they go for slog. Have always loved ODI cricket, but that does not mean that I don't like Tests or T20. It [the World Cup] is a big stage, especially because it is happening in India and it has a big fan-following. Everybody is looking forward to the World Cup," he added.
Image: MS Dhoni
Keep the distractions away
The team is also trying not to get distracted by sentiment, like trying to win the tournament for veteran Sachin Tendulkar, who is probably playing his last World Cup; or coach Gary Kirsten, who is due to quit after the tournament.
"The feel is the same irrespective of where you are positioned when it comes to some players or the coach. What is important is for the team to concentrate more on the process and the preparation rather than thinking about all the other things.
"One of the good things with the Indian cricket team is that there are plenty of issues that always surround it. But we are quite good at distracting ourselves from all issues and concentrating on the preparation; that's what we need to do. But still the fact remains that this will be the last World Cup for Sachin, and most likely the last tournament for Gary Kirsten as the coach of the Indian team." said Dhoni.
The wicketkeeper-batsman also cautioned against taking weaker teams lightly, pointing to results from the last tournament. India were outclassed by Bangladesh, while Ireland shocked Pakistan as both teams made an early exit from the tournament.
"I don't have to say much about people saying that the tournament actually starts from the quarter-finals. I think it will be interesting right from the start. People consider some of the games boring; but as you saw in the last World Cup, it was the boring games that took out the whole excitement from the tournament. Keep your eyes open for them," he said.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar and Gary Kirsten
Taking batting Powerplay could be crucial
Dhoni was of the view that timing of taking the Batting Powerplay is still proving a tricky choice for captains.
"The batting Powerplay is a big plus and big negative at the same time. A lot will depend on what kind of result you get in those five overs, because most of the teams will look to accelerate during those five overs with wickets in hand.
"We will look to get as many runs as possible, but what we have seen in the past is that quite a few times the batting team loses three-odd wickets and you see the game changing again. You also have to bat out 50 overs; it important at what point you take the Powerplay. It is a tricky one; it can work in your favour in a big way, and can work against you in a big way," Dhoni said.
Image: Yusuf Pathan