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India v Australia, World Cup 2011, 2nd quarter-final, Ahmedabad

Dhoni expects high-skill battle

Sharda Ugra in Ahmedabad

March 23, 2011

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In a quarter-final where expectation, anxiety and the ultimatum of a result threaten to dominate proceedings, India captain MS Dhoni said it would eventually be a contest between teams of extremely high skill. The India v Australia quarter-final at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera on Thursday will depend on which of the two teams could find their 'Iron Men'. Dhoni said while mental strength and intensity were vital, "you have to rely on skill because ultimately it has to reflect on the field. It is the skill that really helps you give your best on the field."

India's skillfulness will depend on what its spinners can do against the Australian batting but Dhoni as good as ruled out India opting to throw all their three spinners into the mix, saying it would be "very tough" for the Indians to play three specialist slow bowlers on a wicket that is expected to offer some semblance of slow turn under a baking Gujarat sun.

Over the last decade India v Australia has become the most bitterly contested rivalry in cricket, the two teams going eyeball-to-eyeball across all formats of the game. Memories of Australia's thunderous victory over the Indians in the 2003 final, the last time the two nations played each other in a World Cup, Dhoni said would have no bearing on the Ahmedabad quarter-final. While he did say circumstances were different from the 2003 squad, five members of that team - Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra - are still a part of the squad, a good portion of them even featuring in the XI tomorrow.

MS Dhoni inspects the pitch, Ahmedabad, March 23, 2011
MS Dhoni says India aren't likely to field all three specialist spinners on a pitch likely to offer slow turn © AFP

What Dhoni, however, took great care to detail was the difference between the team he had led in the 2008 CB series against Australia and the World Cup squad. In that comparison, the 2011 squad did not exactly come out shining. "The team set-up was very different. Irfan [Pathan] was really doing well for us both with the bat and the ball which meant we were close to playing with five bowlers and with the options of part-timers." He said the 2008 campaign was, "a bit easy because you had plenty of options and all the bowlers were doing well." The fielding side, he said, had, "new" players who were "fresh and able to throw themselves at the ball which meant we were able to save those 15-20 runs which count at the end of the day."

In the last decade, an India-Australia match, Dhoni said, had begun to mean that "the players are most intense on the field. They want to give the best, the whole world is keeping an eye on the contest between the players. That is also the reason why we are seeing more intensity and people (are) wanting to perform in these big games ... you want your key players to perform and being intense really helps you perform at your best."

He would not be drawn into making a statement about whether Thursday's game, was as Australian coach Tim Nielsen thought, "a mini-final". "It's an important game for us, the first knockout game we would be playing. I won't give it a category of a pre-final or a pre-whatever game. It is an important game where you have to win irrespective of what opposition you are playing." He then said emphatically, "That's it for me and the side."

It was one of Dhoni's more mystifying media conferences at this World Cup, set off by a few questions about the team's relationship with the vast scrum of Indian media. His response to the first question was, "The less exposure the less the controversy: so it is best to keep it to the minimum." By the time he was asked a third question about the 'breakdown' between the team and the media, Dhoni said he preferred to speak about the game and some of his responses went from his usually lucid to downright cryptic.

When he was asked about his own batting form, Dhoni spoke about being "quite satisfied with the effort" but he went on to speak of a generic lower order. "It is important that everybody has a role and a responsibility in the side... we have batted really well especially the top order, which means more often than not, the lower order is getting to bat when they are looking to accelerate or as the scorecards suggest, more often or not, we have lost quite a few wickets and again, we are looking to bat for whatever number of overs are left." He did steered clear of his own recent batting record, with two 50s in his last 21 ODIs from July 2010 and said India's concern now was on the pace at which runs were scored, "We have not really capitalised on the slog overs or on the second Powerplay. Hopefully in the coming games, we will be able to accumulate more runs."

Dhoni had a different explanation when speaking of Yusuf Pathan's performance at the World Cup. "That's the game Yusuf plays. Over few months or years, you find him changing his innings a lot... What is important is what helps you become a part of the Indian cricket team, till you are not a permanent part, it's always good to stick to it. Once you're a part of the playing XI, you can look to change your instinct a bit. The more games you play, the more experience you get and you start batting according to the demands of the game."

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 44 
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Posted by Sridhar on (March 24, 2011, 21:44 GMT)

India won..... awesome team effort !!! wonder display by bowlers and batsmen.... Only one concern is, Mr. Dhoni's form???? still struggling in the middle..........

Posted by Kumar on (March 24, 2011, 18:42 GMT)

@KURUWITA, Eat your own words. India WON and into Semifinals.

Posted by Lalith on (March 24, 2011, 11:58 GMT)

Aussies will win sure. They will score 275 which is too much for India under light.

Posted by Lalith on (March 24, 2011, 11:11 GMT)

4 Indian players are playing for Aussies. We can see a very good battle again in SF in AUS VS PAK

Posted by Lalith on (March 24, 2011, 10:12 GMT)

India has the worst bowling attack out of 8 QF teams.

Posted by Lalith on (March 24, 2011, 10:05 GMT)

Munaf is gone after 1 over giving away 3 fours. India needs to learn from PAK how to bowl.

Posted by Lalith on (March 24, 2011, 9:27 GMT)

India will suffer because of bad bowling & fielding. Watto starts with fours and Haddin with sixers. It will be a long night for Indians.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 24, 2011, 8:09 GMT)

U still hav time ..Bring IP back to the team MSD !!!!! create an injury come on !!!!

Posted by Nataraaj on (March 24, 2011, 8:03 GMT)

This match is so important for Indians. we must beat Aus at any cost..Win toss bat first and set a target 325+.. We have batsman capable of doing this.. our bowlers Munaf ,Zaheer and Ashwin must strike early and don't give opportunity to Aussies to settledown.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 24, 2011, 7:20 GMT)

going with 3 spinner is not a wise move as we have two part timer yuvi & yusuf i think shreesanth should included in plaing 11

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