Defeat will not take away from superb season: Dravid
As the Indians prepared to take on Pakistan in the two-match DLF Series, Rahul Dravid, the captain, indicated that even a defeat in the series would not take away the sheen off what the Indians have achieved already in a long season.
"Two performances cannot take away anything, it is people's perception," Dravid said. "Our performance still stands even if we lose these two games." The two back-to-back matches will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday at Abu Dhabi.
India have not lost a one-day series this season - winning against Sri Lanka (6-1), Pakistan (4-1) and England (5-1), and drawing against South Africa (2-2) - and have a 17-5 win-loss record going into the competition. However, Dravid expected the matches, played to raise funds for last year's Kashmir earthquake victims, to be as close as during India's visit to Pakistan two months ago.
"It is a one-day competiton at a new venue. We start afresh. The series that we won in Pakistan were all very close matches. We expect similarly close games here. We hope that the momentum that we have built [over the season] will take care of these two matches as well."
Dravid also indicated that this had been one of the most difficult seasons of his career. "Yes it has been probably the toughest, I have been playing since July, I also played the World Series when the rest of the team got some time to rest," he said. "I have been playing for eight months. It has been one of the toughest seasons, but it has also been enjoyable."
Dravid reiterated the team's faith in the out of form Virender Sehwag and Mohammad Kaif, saying they formed the nucleas of the side for the World Cup. "We have a lot of faith in Sehwag and Kaif. We are getting a fair idea of what we want going into the World Cup," he said. "The pieces are falling in places and Sehwag and Kaif are very important in our plans going into the future. Whether they play tomorrow or not is not important."
Asked if Ashish Nehra and Laxmipathy Balaji, the fast bowlers who went out of the team with injuries, had a chance to come back into the side, Dravid said the onus was on the players. "The competition is very stiff. Nehra and Balaji have not played cricket for quite some time due to injury. It is upto them to come back from their injuries and put their hands up for selection by their performances.
"Some of the young bowlers have taken the responsibility and have done a very good job. They are just 20-21, and it is really remarkable the way they have performed."
Reacting to the comments by Graham Gooch, the former England captain, that India should not peak too early in the lead-up to the World Cup, Dravid said, "We would rather win games and peak rather than lose matches."
Dravid was guarded in his response when asked whether it was the end of the road for his predecessor Sourav Ganguly. "It is never the end of the road for anyone. I am not chairman of selectors, and for me to make any blanket statement would be wrong."
Asked whether the team will miss the services of Sachin Tendulkar, he said: "Tendulkar is a great player, [he is] always going to be missed. He is a critical part of our team, but having said that some of the younger players have come in and risen to the challenge. Sachin will add to the strength of the side when he comes back. In fact, it is good that he is out now, it will give him enough time to recover for the World Cup".
He also said the team has taken up with the board the issue of extra workload after the BCCI announced a series of matches in neutral venues over the next five years. "We have spoken to BCCI, we want to ensure no extra load is put on the players. We have got this assurance from them since we made it clear to them that there was already a huge amount of work load on us."