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Unpredictability can be India’s strength: Fletcher

Indian coach counts on his youngsters; captain Dhoni pleased with preperations

England’s heartbreaking loss to Sri Lanka notwithstanding, MS Dhoni believes Alastair Cook’s team remains a stern opponent in the English conditions. Extending his support to his English counterpart, the Indian skipper refused to take the battered hosts lightly on the basis of the last-over series defeat against the Lankans.

“It’s not about what has happened to them in their last series. When we assess the England team as opposition, we see a fantastic side, which means it will be a tough competition,” Dhoni said ahead of India’s first warm-up match in Leicester. “They know their home conditions well and it’s a pretty long series for us as well. Playing five Test matches in England is entirely new for us.”

Cook has been copping criticism from all quarters owing to his team’s defeats and his own poor run with the bat. Dhoni, who is no stranger to being under the scanner, emphasized with the England skipper.

“It’s important for the media to remember what they said about him the last time we were here and how he performed,” Dhoni said. “Everyone has a bad phase and it’s at that time that they need the backing. Everyone is on your side when you’re winning and scoring those big hundreds. But the real test of character of the fans, media and team mates is if they support you when you’re not doing well.”

Going back to his own team, Dhoni was pleased with the way the first four days of the tour have gone, weather and facility wise. On a long and challenging tour, the skipper takes solace in the fact that his team will not be out of support in this country.

“All over England we have a big fan following. In the Champions Trophy final, we had more support than the England team,” the Indian skipper quipped. “The facilities have been really great, which matters a lot. The weather had been very kind in the three-four days we’ve been here, which means we have been able to achieve what we wanted to in the first four days. With the practice game starting tomorrow, we want to make the most of our preparation time.” The skipper said.

Coach, Duncan Fletcher, agreed: “We want all our players to have some sort of match practice going into the first Test,” he said. “We are pretty sure what the side is going to be but if we have any injury, like we did the last time when we were here, we want all the players to be ready if they’re called upon.”

Taking about his own experience of coaching Team India to two Test series defeats against England, Fletcher said his main job was to develop the cricketers and make them the match-winners. “Everyone, coaches and players, go through the ups and downs. As a coach your main aim is to help the players, take them forward and develop them. If a result comes out of it, it’s great.”

Speaking of the importance of the relationship between the coach and the captain, Fletcher said, “Cricket is a difficult game to lead because here the coach doesn’t have as much say as he does in other sports. It is the captain’s side but he needs the support of the coach. If you don’t have that support, the coach and the captain will start doubting each other and when that happens, you’re going to run into a huge problem. If you believe in the strategies you have put together and trust each other, it becomes easier.”

The former England coach denied having a special motivation of winning on the English shores, defeating his previous team. “Every Test series you play is very important because you’ll be judged on the basis of the last Test series that you’ve played.”

He was also hopeful of his young team converting their weakness into their strength. “Without making excuses, this is a very, very inexperienced side. But it’s nice sometimes because it brings in that factor of unpredictability. They could play some exciting cricket and there are many players in this group who will go on to become very good cricketer for India,” Fletcher said. 

Shirin Sadikot

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Need to close games from crucial situations: Dhoni

Captain and coach hope young bowlers have learnt from SA and NZ tours

As he leads a young Team India to their biggest tour of the season, the English sojourn, MS Dhoni is full of hope and realistic expectations. This might be the first tour to England for most of the 18 members of the Test squad but Dhoni feels the experience in South Africa and New Zealand will come in handy for the youngsters.

“For quite a few players this will be their first tour to England but most of them have been got the exposure playing in South Africa and New Zealand,” Dhoni said. “With a few games behind them they will be at ease there. It’s also a good thing that we’re going a bit early, which will give us time to get into the groove.”

The captain hopes the new boys have learnt from their experiences from the twin tours and will use that in England to their advantage.

“We had disappointing series in England and Australia the last time but in South Africa and New Zealand we were in positions where we could have won matches. We weren’t able to close the games but we bowled really well. This time we need to close the games.” Dhoni said, which coach, Duncan Fletcher seconded.

“It was disappointing – 4-0 losses in England and Australia is not easy to take. This is a very young side but sometimes that’s a good thing,” said Fletcher. “Hopefully, they have learnt from the Tests in SA and NZ. If we manage to win one game, it will suddenly give them the confidence to win the series.”

When asked to state the logic behind taking an extended squad of 18 players, Dhoni said having players on the bench who are used to the conditions will stand the team in good stead in case of injuries.

“The last time in England we had quite a few injuries and we were a fast bowler short, which is a big blow,” Dhoni recalled. “This is a five-match Test series and it can be tough on the boys. What an 18-member squad does is if we have injuries, the players who will replace the injured ones will already have enough exposure of the conditions.

“The bowlers will know what lengths to bowl and how to go about their plans. If they’re not required, they will have good practice in those conditions. They last time when injuries happened, we had to fly in a lot of players who had to play without getting used to the conditions.”

Talking about his own batting, Dhoni said he will be aggressive in his approach and play his natural game. “I’ve realized that I have to be far more aggressive in my batting because I play much better that way than when I try to play like a proper batsman.

“It’s important to back your instincts and not think too much about the situation. I shouldn’t look to bat out time because there are other batsmen who can do that. If the ball is in my slot – whether it’s the first or the last – I should go for it.”

India’s overseas Test performances have been under the scanner since quite a while, and Dhoni feels organizing ‘A’ and emerging players tours to the western countries will help create a generation of Indian cricketers who are ready to play in alien conditions. He referred to India’s upcoming ‘A’ tour to Australia.

“We have been working behind the scenes to ensure that the upcoming cricketers play more matches in foreign conditions. Often when we don’t do well overseas, people say we should make fast and bouncy wickets in India. But it’s not easy, you can’t make such wickets in India. So, the more the youngsters go and play outside, the more equipped they will be when the make the big stage,” the Indian captain said.

Shirin Sadikot

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