Upbeat India prepare for England test
The mood in the Indian camp, on the eve of their quarter-final, was jovial at the picturesque ICC Academy in Dubai, just behind the game's headquarters. The fielding drill looked anything but boring and the players were raring to go. India have proved so far that their showing in the practice games - they lost both the matches - wasn't much to go by, having not dropped a single game in the group stage. Despite those wins, their coach B Arun said the team was yet to peak. He was referring to the top-order batting, which was identified as India's strength before the tournament started but hasn't been consistent.
In their first two games, against Pakistan and Scotland, India were in trouble at 94 for 4 and 19 for 4 respectively and needed rescuing from their lower order. The problem didn't resurface against easier opponents Papua New Guinea, but tougher tests await them in the knockouts. Arun was not too worried about the batting order facing up to England's pace-centric attack.
"Yes it hasn't clicked as we would have expected. In a big tournament there are bound to be butterflies and the over-eagerness to perform also," Arun said. "Now they have kind of settled down and will hopefully peak at the right time."
Sarfaraz Khan has been the revelation in the middle order, as has the understated allrounder Deepak Hooda. Against Scotland, the pair came together after India lost their top five batsmen for 22, making the 89-run target look distant. Together, Sarfaraz and Hooda ensured India did not suffer further losses. Arun denied the perception that the team got carried away against an easier opponent.
"Definitely not complacency," Arun said. "There were maybe one or two good balls, plus a bad decision (referring to Sanju Samson's lbw). In such a situation you don't expect to bat before lunch and suddenly three-four wickets fall. It's a pretty good lesson for us."
The spinners from both sides were more than a handful, with Kuldeep Yadav taking a hat-trick, but Arun said the pitch for the game against Scotland was not the reason for a collapse.
"The devils were not in the pitch. It was in the mind," Arun said. "If you look at Akhil's (Herwadkar) shot, it was a wide ball and he played the cut but got the edge."
England are an unfamiliar opponent for India, for the teams have not played each other between the World Cups. Their last clash was in a one-dayer during the Quadrangular series in Townsville in 2012, which India won by 63 runs.
In this tournament, England have played out a high percentage of dot balls - 178 and 189 against Sri Lanka and New Zealand respectively - and Arun said there were no specific plans to target their weaknesses.
"Every team that plays well normally plays about 55% scoring shots and 45% dots," Arun said. "Sometimes statistics don't tell you anything. We'll just focus on what we need to do and our bowlers to bowl on areas they need to bowl. If we do that, it is about trying to dictate what the batsman should be doing rather than looking at the batsman's strengths."
India made two changes for their match against Papua New Guinea, bringing in Shreyas Iyer and Monu Kumar and the coach said the XI for the quarter-final will be decided after looking at the pitch.
England trained at the Fairgrounds Oval in the Dubai Men's College campus in the afternoon. They, too, could have entered the quarters with a 100%-win record had they not lost a nail-biter against Sri Lanka. Tim Boon, the England coach, said India will be their biggest test yet in playing under pressure.
"Every team now has access to each other's video footage," Boon said. "It's a great learning curve for our boys to see how they play under pressure.
"India have been formidable over the last two seasons in whatever competition they have gone for, however we are focusing our attention in what we do well."
Boon said the high percentage of dot balls in their last two matches wasn't an issue. Against New Zealand, England recovered from a slow 91 for 4 after 30 overs to 229 for 8.
"What I liked about our batting was that we had some wickets till the end," Boon said. "Then, we were able to up the strike-rate at the end. Yes, there were a couple of little learnings in that, but that's the beauty about World Cup cricket - to test yourself against the best young talents in the world."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo