Lead-up to first Test is the key - Dhoni
MS Dhoni, the India captain, has said how his team utilise their time in Australia in the lead-up to the first Test will determine the outcome of the series. "It depends on how we prepare ourselves during the 12 days before the Test match and how we adapt to the conditions," Dhoni said. "Most of the batsmen have played there before. We are hoping we will do well there."
India have been poor starters overseas of late and have lost the first Test of the series on their previous trips to Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and England. But Duncan Fletcher, the India coach, said an early arrival in Australia for some of his players coupled with two warm-up games should be sufficient for the team to acclimatise to conditions. "You hope that they do adapt during that period of time. Probably it is enough," Fletcher said in Chennai ahead of the team's departure to Australia.
Australia have struggled recently, but Dhoni said this was not necessarily India's best chance to win a Test series in Australia, and that he would rather work on his side's strengths and weaknesses than concentrate on the opposition's form. "Even last time [in 2007-08] we had a very good chance and we did really perform well. It is not that if the opposition is not doing well it will be a best chance for us. We have to play to the level of the kind of talent that we have got and not worry about such things. We are more concerned about what we need to work on and are not too worried about what kind of opposition we are playing.
"Some people think that the last Australian team was much better than the current Australian side. Some of the present players were not part of the 2008 side. To judge them is quite a difficult task. Anil Kumble was part of our side [then]. The spinners coming into the team now are not as experienced as Anil. It applies to the Australian team also. They had big players like Adam Gilchrist and others.
"[Because they are] missing big names in the present setup, some people think that this is our best chance. But we did well that time also and quite a few things happened in the series. Most of you watched that. We will try to keep such things away. We are a good side and we need to do well on the field."
Fletcher agreed with Dhoni about the need for India to focus on their own game but added that Australia had some good players who were currently out of form and India would do well to keep things that way.
Zaheer Khan, who is returning after a long injury lay-off, will be crucial if India are to put pressure on the Australia line-up and Fletcher said that he did not want to rush his premier fast bowler back. "From the reports that I get, Zaheer had come to Mumbai and bowled in the nets there and he looked impressive. I think it is very important to be careful; he looked to be in very good condition even when he came to England.
"He has got through two games [in the Ranji Trophy, for Mumbai]. It will be ideal preparation for him. We do not want to rush him back too quickly. The one three-day game there will be important for him before the first Test."
Fletcher was also upbeat about Ishant Sharma, who was among the players who departed early for Australia. "He has had a nice rest. He was totally free from injury when he finished the Test match in Mumbai [against West Indies]. He has gone out there fresh. It is important that they have little breaks between series. Everything that we have heard so far is that they are ready to go."
Though seamers Praveen Kumar and Varun Aaron will be missing the tour due to injury, Dhoni was optimistic about the chances of his bowling attack. "If you see the injury list, it is quite blank as of now. More often than not, [of the] the 15 or 16 who are selected [in the squad] everybody will be ready for selection [in the XI]. That takes a bit of pressure off and you need not worry about the playing XI that much as most of the players get their berths on merit.
"Apart from that, the batting line-up is quite the same. Bowling-wise, Zaheer is back. We have got Umesh Yadav who can bowl over 140kph. I think it looks like a good pack."
Dhoni said he was not worried about the fact that only two of his bowlers had played more than 15 Tests as it was more important to have in-form bowlers than experienced ones.
"R Ashwin has just made his debut in the series against West Indies while Harbhajan Singh has played in 98 Test matches and is one of the leading wicket-takers for India," Dhoni said. "Nobody knew what Ashwin can do. But he ended up winning the Man-of-the-Series in the Tests. This is something that Duncan said that we have to be careful about. Just because the big names are not there, it does not mean the bowling attack is weak. Even when Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath made their debut they started from zero wickets. You may be having a [potentially] great bowler, who may be just starting his career and playing the first few games."