India prepare quietly ahead of big clash
Relaxed. That is what the Indian team are feeling at the moment. In fact, that seems to have been their state of mind throughout the tournament. Their progress might have caught the cynics off guard, especially back home, but MS Dhoni and his team could not care less. Although Dhoni did point out on the eve of the first warm-up match that it was surprising not to see numerous Indian TV channels, who had boycotted the event, unhappy with the terms and conditions set by the ICC over accreditation for non-rights holders.
Away from the glare of relentless media attention, India have trained quietly and purposefully. And it was the same in Cardiff on a warm and sunny Tuesday afternoon, where India did nothing out of the ordinary, two days ahead of their semi-final against Sri Lanka. Being such a big match, it is normal to expect teams to bring extra intensity to training. But India decided to keep things simple; greasing the nuts and bolts so that they are ready to roll out smoothly come Thursday.
Suresh Raina, obsessive when it comes to training, turned up first at Sophia Gardens, an hour before the rest of the squad arrived (at the scheduled time) in the afternoon. Taking throw downs from the fielding coach Trevor Penney, Raina focused on every aspect of his batting, especially against the moving and short ball. The success of the top order has not allowed Raina much time in the middle, so it was key that he remained in the right frame of mind.
Elsewhere, Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik asked Penney to feed them length balls, as they wanted to make certain they were sensing, eyeing and timing well. Kohli focused on leaving the ball as he felt he was not letting them go as much as he should have during match situations. Karthik went so far as to berate himself after pulling a ball too far away from his body. He communicated that to Penny, even pointing the exact distance he had connected with the ball, when all of the time he should have been lunging forward to play the pull.
Earlier, Karthik was involved in an animated chat with Indian coach Duncan Fletcher, with both men discussing the finer points about the upper cut and pull shot. It would have been fascinating to hear what was being said, but Fletcher seemed to galvanise Karthik, who was hell bent on getting things precise later.
Although the success of the Indian batting has been the central point of focus, the fast bowlers have also toiled hard, despite not having much experience with the white Kookaburra, bar Ishant Sharma. Today, Joe Dawes, the Indian bowling coach, put the trio of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar through various drills, pointing out exactly what each needed to do in order to be more sharp. Lengths, body movement and getting certain variations accurate seemed to be Dawes' focus during the hour-long session.
Dawes, a former Queensland fast bowler, and a policeman, is a methodical guy, and at times irritates the batsmen by refusing to give them easy balls, even during throw downs. This fact was not lost on Kohli, who teased Dawes for never giving batsmen any allowance. "Always at the batsman's wrists. You can throw 300 balls, but only five will be easy to drive," Kohli joked with Dawes, who was giving a slightly hard time to Bhuvneshwar at the time.
Such light-hearted banter only happens when a team is functioning smoothly. And that has remained the key to India's success in this Champions Trophy.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo