Australia will come back strong - Dhoni
After the nail-biting victory in Mohali, India must do it all over again just four days on, at a venue where they have struggled in the past decade. Having travelled almost the entire length of the country to reach Bangalore on Wednesday, India go into the second Test without two first-choice members of the playing XI, Gautam Gambhir and Ishant Sharma, whose defiance with the bat played a big role in Mohali. A third, VVS Laxman, is still struggling to regain full fitness after his first-Test heroics, though the team management is quietly confident that he will play.
While much has been said about the scars sustained by Australia who lost a match they should have won, MS Dhoni, who has now led India to victory in 11 of 16 Tests, was taking nothing for granted. "They [Australia] will come back strong," he said. "That's their culture and they don't give up easily. We have to prepare for that and respond to the task."
Australia have won twice and never lost in four games at the Chinnawamy Stadium, and India will need to field far better than they did in Mohali to reverse that trend. Dhoni, who dropped catches at crucial junctures, was confident that his team would do better in Bangalore. "At times you drop catches," he said. "What really matters is how much you do in practice sessions. If you do everything right then and still drop catches, it is okay. You can't do too much about it because we are trying to get as close to the match situation during such practice sessions.
"When you win a game, you just don't talk much about what went wrong in that game. What we have realised is that even when you win a game, there are areas that need improvement. We are aware of that. Despite the amount of effort we take to rectify the problems, in cricket it happens always at some point of time. The more the gap between the mistakes, the better it is for the side."
Dhoni admitted that both the bowling and batting needed a bit of fine-tuning. "You cannot give too many runs with the new ball," Dhoni said, perhaps referring to the ease with which Australia scored in the early stages of both innings. "Once you have got close to the opposition target you should not lose too many wickets and you should try to get as much of a lead as possible. It is important not to let them rotate the strike easily and we have seen that run-outs can change the course of this game. If someone gets a start, they should try to make it big."
One of the big topics of debate in Mohali was how far back the Indian slip cordon stood, given the sluggish bounce over the first three days, and the number of chances that didn't carry. With similar conditions expected in Bangalore, Dhoni suggested that the Indians would reassess their approach. "At times from outside, it is difficult to judge," he said. "But if you are too close, it's really difficult to react. If a batsman plays a shot and if it comes to the right or left, it becomes difficult to move your feet and you have to rely on your hands. In the last Test, the average bounce got better as the day progressed.
"I compared the marks where we were standing on the first day and the last day of the match. Surprisingly on the last day the Australians were standing behind the spots we were standing. That meant that the ball was skidding on initially and the ball was not carrying, falling in front of the slips or the keeper. You have to take a call on whether you can stand where the ball has bounced and, if you can, it is better to stand up. It's always better to drop a catch than have the ball dropping before you."
Given some of the skirmishes and controversies involving these two sides over the past decade, the first Test was largely devoid of rancour and incident. There was some exchange of words between Zaheer Khan and Ricky Ponting, though the Indians insisted he had reacted to a private joke. "We always try to play cricket in the best possible manner," said Dhoni. "We are putting in a lot of effort and at times, we respond to the opposition's words. We try not to get too personal. A bit of chit-chat is fine. The last Test went off well except for that one incident, and we will try to close this series without any controversies."
Ticket sales have been average in Bangalore, but after one of the great Test matches in Mohali, Dhoni reckoned that there was little to fear for the health of the five-day game. "I think it is here to stay. All the captains and teams are trying to make Test cricket interesting. Most of the games have a result these days. The more exciting Test cricket gets, the better it is. You have two innings and if you have not done well in the first innings as a team, you can come back in the next, especially in the subcontinent where the game really changes fast in the last couple of days."
There was a fair smattering of grass on the pitch on the eve of the game, but with the surface having played so slowly in recent times, Dhoni wasn't making much of it. "The wicket is damp right now and I don't want to predict too much right now," he said. "Once it dries up we will have a look, There is not too much grass cover on the wicket and we will see how hard it is and how the conditions are before taking a call."
M Vijay is certain to open in Gambhir's absence, though Dhoni was non-committal about who would replace Ishant, with the promising Jaidev Unadkat, a left-arm seamer, having been drafted into the squad. With India already having a left-armer in Zaheer, Sreesanth is expected to play, especially with rain and cloud about.
"He is bowling well in the nets," said Dhoni of Sreesanth, whose spell was crucial to the Indian victory against Sri Lanka in Kanpur a year ago. "There is no major niggle as far as he's concerned. Again, we will take a call tomorrow. We will go for the combination that best suits us."