ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News
World Cup 2011
Dhoni plays down World Cup hype
Siddarth Ravindran at the Chinnaswamy Stadium
February 10, 2011
The weight of expectation on the Indian cricket team, heavy at the best of times, has risen exponentially with the World Cup being held at home and India among the favourites. MS Dhoni's response as captain, at his first official World Cup press conference on Thursday, was typical: he played with a straight bat, deflecting questions so that the pressure on the team doesn't rise further.
The mantra was "focus on process and preparation" (and not results or other things like Gary Kirsten's exit as India coach), pressure isn't pressure anymore but responsibility, no opposition team was identified as a threat ("all teams are dangerous"), the Indian team had a good mix of experienced players ("who know how to handle pressure") and youngsters ("who can change the course of the game"). And, significantly, not winning the World Cup is not the end of the world.
"A lot of hype is created around the World Cup but every series that the Indian team plays we have a lot of expectation," Dhoni said in Bangalore. "We are supposed to win the World Cup, the atmosphere was same in 2007, it won't be right to consider this as one of the final frontiers, it's one of the big tournaments, the team needs to do well, (but) it's always the process and preparation that will help us achieve success, not thinking about what's coming and how big the tournament is."
Dhoni also sidestepped a question on the importance of the tournament for the one-day format. "I'm a big fan of fifty-over cricket. That doesn't mean I don't like Twenty20s or Tests. It's a big stage, big fan following and everybody is looking forward to it."
What was Dhoni's view on the prolonged World Cup, stretching over 43 days when its football counterpart typically picks out a winner in a month? "It is very difficult to form a perfect schedule and format. A tournament schedule will be either too long or too short but I am quite happy with the schedule. It will give us time to recover from small niggles."
India's first warm-up match is against Australia on Sunday, and it will be Ricky Ponting's first game in more than six weeks after being sidelined by a finger injury. Would India target him with short deliveries? "We'll see about the strategy later."
Today at least there was no visible strategy during the first official training session except that Virat Kohli got special attention from Kirsten, initially during the fielding drills, and later during the throw-downs. Kohli, one of the most prolific Indian ODI batsmen in 2010, would keep his fingers crossed to make his World Cup debut though the return of Gautam Gambhir in the top order has made his position uncertain. But today, Kirsten worked hard on the youngster's technique, trying to make sure the bat-swing was coming down straight before the point of impact with the ball.
It was not a simple day at work for Kohli , who earlier intently heard the pair of Kirsten and Dhoni explain to him the right body position while taking catches in close positions like slips. Both men laid emphasis on anticipation being the key. Whatever they said, Kohli underwent some anxious moments, dropping a couple of straightforward catches. But his seniors were patient and continued to correct his fielding stance.
In contrast to light-hearted practice on Wednesday, the Indians had a four-hour long rigorous training session with Kirsten and Dhoni supervising the batsmen while the pair of Eric Simons and Zaheer Khan taking care of the fast bowlers. Harbhajan Singh, after a short spell with the ball, enjoyed playing the axe-murderer alongside Dhoni, using the bat akin to golfers using their drivers. Nine days before the tournament opener against Bangladesh, the Indians appeared in the right frame of mind.
Dhoni's play-it-safe strategy at a spruced-up Chinnaswamy Stadium ("the dressing room looks better, doesn't mean the dressing room wasn't good before") should keep the headlines sober as well. It will also ensure that, after entering the past three ICC events touted as title-winners before ending up well short, the Indian team aren't distracted from their challenge of living up to their billing as leading contenders this time around.