ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / News

Bangladesh v India, Group B, World Cup 2011, Mirpur

Dhoni plays down the pressure factor

Sambit Bal in Mirpur

February 18, 2011

Comments: 70 | Text size: A | A

On the morning of the final day of the Adelaide Test of the 2003-04 series, when a tricky chase lay between India and their second Test win on Australian soil, I arrived at the ground early, sneaked on to the field where the team was playing a game of volleyball, crept up to John Wright, the India coach whom I regarded as a friend, and whispered this question.

"So John, what's this volleyball thing about, a couple of hours before one of the most important days of Test cricket of their lives?"

Wright gave me the look of astonishment. His eyes narrowed as he considered his response. I can't reproduce his words here, but I had hardly expected the spray that came my way.

I bumped into him in the elevator a couple of days later, and he smiled. "I don't bother you when you are working, do I?" he said, saving me the bother of asking. "Sometimes, the best way to prepare for a big day is to take your mind off it."

I remembered this as I watched the Indian team kick around a football in the Shere Bangla stadium, where they will open their World Cup campaign against Bangladesh on Saturday. MS Dhoni had just emerged from the pre-match press conference, where he had to respond to the same question phrased in different words and in different languages: was his team feeling the pressure? "I would have told you the exact figure," he said at one point, "if I had a machine to measure the pressure."

Indian players hardly need to be reminded about what is expected off them. "What to do," Dhoni said in response to another question, "there is pressure if you win, there is pressure if you lose." But out there on the turf, playing a game of football before the serious business of nets, they were like eager boys showing off their skills without feeling the obligation to perform.

Bangladesh are hardly pushovers in one-day cricket, and certainly not in their own conditions when their bowlers are as good as any in the world. But India, massive favourites in this World Cup and on whom rest not only the hopes of their fans rest but also the commercial success of the tournament, are expected to win against a team that knocked them out of the last World Cup, leading the format of the tournament to be redesigned.

The warm-up matches have been done and won but India are among to few teams to start the tournament against an opposition that possesses the wherewithal to knock them over. There is a precedent of a team losing the first match and going on to win the World Cup, but losing to Bangladesh would bring back the memories and the questions that India wouldn't want to revisit.

Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan take a breather during practice, Shere Bangla Stadium, Mirpur, February 18, 2011
Yusuf Pathan's heroics in South Africa have made him a certainty, but will Suresh Raina play? © AFP

"We haven't even thought about it," Dhoni said when asked whether the 2007 defeat was playing on their minds, "because we don't want to repeat what happened in 2007." Seven of those who featured in that match are likely to be in the playing XI tomorrow, and four of them will form the top order that malfunctioned in Trinidad. The biggest difference between then and now, Dhoni pointed out, is that "we are in a much better frame of mind."

If India have any worries it is over the form of their quick bowlers. Ashish Nehra, who has been India's most consistent bowler in the format and was expected to fire in yorkers during the batting Powerplay, has been both erratic and down on pace in the warm-up matches. Munaf Patel, who was impressive in South Africa, has looked easy fodder on flatter pitches. Zaheer Khan, who sat out the warm-up games but bowled in the nets today, is certain to play and is expected to carry the attack. Nehra will perhaps be pencilled in to the share the new ball, but the nature of the pitch here makes two specialist spinners a real possibility.

"It's certainly an option we will consider," Dhoni said. Piyush Chawla was a rank outsider before the squad was selected but lends variety, can bat a bit and is a better fielder, all of which gives him a better chance of making the XI ahead of R Ashwin.

An equally big decision would be over the sixth batsman. By no means was Yusuf Pathan a certain starter before the one-dayers in South Africa but he will be impossible to leave out after his near match-winning hundred in Cape Town and his offspin lends a handy four-over option too.

But it's Virat Kohli's form that provides Dhoni with his happiest headache. He was India's most impressive batsman in difficult conditions in South Africa, but he would come in at the expense of Suresh Raina, who has been a fixture in the ODI squad and a vital part of Dhoni's strategy of consuming the fifth bowler's quota.

Whatever combination they pick, though, India's strategy will be based on a simple plan. Give their bowlers plenty to defend if they bat first. Or expect to chase down big totals. They bat big and they bat deep, and for the first time in a long time, they have all their best players to choose from. The countdown for the cup that counts begins tomorrow.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 70 
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Posted by Choueb on (February 19, 2011, 14:35 GMT)

I'm a pakistani and I think india have really good chance to win The WC with Pakistan I pray for a final between Pakistan and india and I don' t mined who gonna win this pak aur India that Will The same for me. Best of luck to The 2 teams

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 19, 2011, 10:59 GMT)

Sehwag slaughters Bangladesh :-)

Posted by Nataraaj on (February 19, 2011, 8:17 GMT)

i would prefer Raina to Yuvaraj and Ashwin to sreesanth for this match. both Yuvaraj and Sreesanth are in consistent performers.

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 19, 2011, 7:46 GMT)

We, the cricket crazy nation of India take pride in our 'Team India', billed as the most favored to lift the ICC world cup 2011. On behalf of more than 122 crore people, I wish MSD & his men Good Luck! Come on India, You can do it. Hip Hip Hoorey!!

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 19, 2011, 7:28 GMT)

Best of luck indian cricket Team....

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 19, 2011, 7:23 GMT)

I see a lot of comments on Dhoni favoring Raina..he doesnt infact he does with Yuvraj...Thr shud be a tussle between Yuvraj & Kohli..how do u compare 1down batman Kohli and 4down Raina..Kolhi shud hav replaced Yuvi and not Raina...Yuvraj hasnt produced any matchwinning effort in the recent years and people say they are waiting for his form to return.How long????

Posted by Mohammed on (February 19, 2011, 7:18 GMT)


Posted by Ranjith on (February 19, 2011, 7:11 GMT)

Best of Luck india....right time to do it and honor our cricket God (Sachin) with this world Cup...you guys vl Roczzzz...

Posted by Shriram on (February 19, 2011, 6:55 GMT)

In this new format Ind in the QF is a surety, and is a given. Its the surprises that lie after the league stage that we need to look out for. But with our batsmen's peak form and the tough but succesful tourneys they've had immediately before the World Cup, Indians are aware of all secret weapons teams might possess. Pray to lord, that we get one more reference than simply quoting 1983 everytime...

Posted by Dummy4 on (February 19, 2011, 6:51 GMT)

Look for past 1 year India is usually playing Sri lanka, Bangladesh regularly either they are involved in tri series or in a bilateral series. India yet to be tested. More important is not about 2 or 3 players to come good, its about 11 player have to be good on that particular day in all 3 department. World cup is different ball game altogether. Dont ever count Australia out they are still the biggest threat to India if u see World cup history. In the subconitinent also they are the team who can still be dangerous for any strong opposition. Lets hope India do well in this World Cup.

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Sambit Bal Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.
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