Youngsters will raise our fielding - Dhoni
Twenty20 internationals often go through an identity crisis. They are neither World Twenty20, nor leagues like IPL and BBL where every game takes you towards a larger goal. On international tours, Twenty20s - often one or two in number - run the risk of being seen as just exhibition games.
Not for India this time. MS Dhoni has said that the two Twenty20 internationals against Australia will not be used as glorified nets for the bigger triangular ODI series that follows. He said the presence of youngsters will make the team more energetic on the field.
These might be India's last two Twenty20 internationals before they split up to play for their respective IPL teams and go into September's World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, an event where they have been knocked out in the first round in their last two attempts.
"We don't get to play too many T20 international games," Dhoni said. "Usually it's one match on a tour. It's good we have two games. We'll try to make the most out of it. We'll look to play the XI best suited for that particular occasion, not thinking about the ODIs."
The first occasion for India will be at Sydney's Stadium Australia, a multi-purpose venue originally built for the Olympics. India have no clue what to expect from the ground. They practised there yesterday, but could only do fielding drills because the practice pitches - in a corner, almost under the roof - were damp. Today India, like Australia, shifted base to the more traditional SCG. Dhoni said that shouldn't be much of a handicap because Australia too haven't played much at the venue.
"I don't think there are many who have played there," Dhoni said. "It remains quite the same for the home team as well as the touring team. That's something pretty even. Of course we would like to spend a bit of time there. We had to shift the practice session because the wickets were damp there, and we weren't able to practise. We will see exactly how it is. The outfield will be important. It is not a cricket ground, which means the sand content is more. Hopefully it goes out well."
Dhoni, though, is looking forward to what the fresh faces will bring to the team. "Our one-day side looks very different from our Test side," Dhoni said. "The new boys who have come in are a lot more noisy, which really helps lift the dressing-room atmosphere. They love to pull each other's leg, which means it gets more and more lively. I don't think it's very difficult [to stay positive despite a disastrous tour so far]." He likened the difference they brought to shifting from Kishore Kumar to Sean Paul.
When asked who he would rather work with, the Bollywood legend of the old or the new-age Jamaican rapper, Dhoni picked the middle path. "I am someone who keeps adjusting. That's one good thing. A mix of everything is good. From classical to rap music. Good to have these boys around."
However, Dhoni spoke of the importance of having young legs in the side. "We have really improved as a fielding side, especially in the ODIs where we have seen a mix of players who are experienced and the youngsters coming in. So on an average out of four fielders three of them can really stop the batsmen from taking a quick single. And the opportunity of getting a batsman run out is very critical in an ODI or a T20.
"When it's needed at the slog overs, they can field at the boundary without much hassle. It really helps me in the sense that I don't have to be too worried about placing the right fielders at the right position. They do it amongst themselves. They are very good. They know where they need to be at the right time. It helps me think on the right things, where I can put emphasis."
Dhoni said it wasn't going to be easy to forget how the first half of the tour has gone down. "It's not easy," he said. "We play with a lot of emotion. Indians are known to be emotional people. But it's not something we haven't done in the past. We have been able to do this. In England when we went into the ODIs I felt the boys performed really well apart from the rain that affected our bowling performance because of the wet ball. Apart from that the fight was good over there. Not really worried. Hopefully it will go our way."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo