Playing XI will be key: Dhoni
Hambantota, July 20: After a long break, a refreshed Indian team is all set to face off against the in-form Sri Lankan side in their own backyard. India skipper MS Dhoni spoke about the team combination, the side’s fitness and his own record against SL ahead of the first ODI of the five-match series.
Excerpts from the press conference:
On the approach while playing at a venue for the first time
We need to get used to the conditions [at the venue] if it is different from a normal scenario. We had a practice session [to understand the conditions] yesterday afternoon. We realised it was quite windy here and it could be factor and not just for the bowlers; even the batters need to get used to the conditions. The fielders too [need to adjust to them] because it is a very big field and you need to be positioned [in a way] that the batsmen don’t really push for the twos or threes which is quite common in the ODI and the shortest format nowadays. So it’s good that we are practicing under lights today. We will get to know what situation we will face exactly in the second innings, whether we are bowling or batting. It’s a different venue, it’s a fresh venue and we are hoping that we will do well over here.
On whether India were favourites going into the series
It’s not about being favourites; it’s about how well you are equipped to adapt to the situation, the conditions and whether you start well in the tournament.
On whether the series would be a good test early in the season to check fitness levels especially with the big grounds
It’s a big outfield but the whole area is not covered by the playing area. What will be a big concern is where you stand [while fielding and] how quickly you adapt. If you are fielding mid-wicket from one end, if you move to some other part of the field, then you have to reposition yourself. [You need to know] whether you need to be seven yards inside [or] seven yards behind because it is a very strong wind [out there]. I think most of the guys are doing well when it comes to the fitness department. In the last few days we have mixed our training not only with skill sessions but also fitness drills where we have incorporated the kind of drills that will enhance our performance on the field. I don’t think fitness should be a real concern but it’s just that after a long time we will be a playing a full 50-over game. It’s been three or four months, maybe more [since we played the 50-over format].
On the spin and seam combination
Frankly speaking, we have not decided the [playing] eleven but with the coming of Irfan [Pathan], it gives us the liberty of playing five specialist bowlers. [It also gives us the option] of playing two spinners along with the three fast bowlers because Irfan can do a bit of batting. But what also needs to be considered is what kind of combination we actually want because we don’t really have a real part-timer. When Yuvraj [Singh] was there, even if he was having an off day, he used to bowl four or five overs. Or [Ravindra ] Jadeja could bowl four or five overs [when he was in the team]. [With such players] you can rotate the bowlers and get the ten overs out of them. But if we play with four bowlers [then the] Catch-22 situation is that the rest of the overs will be bowled by Viru pa [Virender Sehwag], Rohit [Sharma] and [Suresh] Raina, so things may be a bit difficult. Sri Lanka are a very experienced side and they will see which bowler needs to be targeted. Not only they, we have also done that in the past. We will have to be careful as to which playing 11 we want to feature.
On how Zaheer Khan would be used in the long season ahead
It is very important [how we utilise Zaheer Khan] but I don’t think we need to think about it right from the first game; you also need to get him match fit. I don’t mean he is unfit. What I am saying is that we do a lot of fitness [training] but match fitness is slightly different. […] The more games he plays, the better he gets. But in between, if we have time and if the situation [allows], we would like to give him rest. We are not really thinking about it at the moment.
On whether the team would have liked more time together as a unit before heading for the tour
Four or five days was a fair enough [period of] time because the break was also much needed. It’s the first break that we have got in the last six or seven years for such a long period. In between players were missing series because of injury and in few of the series some of the senior players opted out, but that’s not really a complete rest. You can’t really get yourself off cricket completely [in those circumstances because] you still think about cricket, you still think about coming series, ODI or Test. So it was good to have this break because in the coming year the schedule is busy. Also, what is important is that we will be playing a lot of Test matches and it is quite tough [as] you play for five days in a row. The amount of Test cricket we are playing, it is good that we got this kind of rest. Mentally we are fresh and physically we’ve got some time to work on our fitness levels. I thought four to five days was a good enough [period of] time for us to assemble together.
On his personal record against Sri Lanka (averaging over 60 runs)
It’s not only me, it is about the kind of platform given to me by the top-order batsman. Yes, I have batted a few times at No. 3 but lately I have been batting at No. 5 or 6. If we are chasing, sometimes at No. 4 also, but it’s all about a good platform. We are a side that relies on our top three [batsmen] a lot when it comes to giving us a good start and when it is given, the middle-order needs to capitalise on it. I feel that’s where we have done really well. Along with Yuvraj [and] me, Suresh Raina and other batsmen have capitalised on the starts and we have been able to put par plus runs on the board. As a unit we have done really well.
On the captain’s role in the utilisation of the Powerplays
It’s an area most of the teams want to explore. [From the] 10th to the 15th over, you can’t take it. The next slot is from the 16th to the 20-21st over. After that the latest that you can take the next Powerplay is the 34th over onwards which means that the in-between overs are very crucial. It all depends on when the batting team takes it and when the bowling team takes it. Usually, the bowling team would like to get rid of the Powerplay as soon as possible. With the two new balls, if the ball is doing a bit it becomes a bit easy but you may also see teams taking the second Powerplay quite early. That’s because the ball is hard and new and you can look to accelerate your innings. But a negative [view] of that particular situation is that if you lose too many wickets in the Powerplay and you are not able to capitalise [on it], you may find, [while] looking for those par plus scores, you end up scoring 20-25 runs short of what you should have.
On whether the team was in an ideal frame of mind ahead of the new tournament
Before the start of the tournament, the good thing is that everybody is looking fresh and the guys are putting in a lot of effort. A lot more guys are going to the gym even after the practice session gets over. Even if we have done fitness training, players are going for a round in the park which means they have more energy in them to consistently put in a bit more effort than they could have if the season continuously went on. As of now, I can see a lot more energy and freshness in the guys, which is definitely a big plus point for us.