The hype is justified - Dhoni
The forthcoming India-Australia Test series is a refreshing antithesis to the recent trends in world cricket. There is a gradually increasing sense of anticipation around it that the shorter, and the more popular, forms of the game lose out on.
The week leading up to the series, which can lay claims to have displaced the Ashes and India v Pakistan as the prime rivalry in Test cricket, has seen the anticipation gain more pace. Not for nothing is this series hyped, according to MS Dhoni. "The hype has a lot to do with what happened when they came to India [in 2004-05]: they did well here in the Test matches," Dhoni said. "And again the hype was created when we went there and we played well.
"There was a good game of cricket, and people expect that [again] and that's why all the hype is created. Both are top-ranked teams and we are a side that play really well. We have really done well at home, people expect good, competitive cricket as well as some aggression on the field. That's why there are so many expectations about an India-Australia series."
Dhoni said, though, that this was more than just a grudge series, notwithstanding what might have happened in the past. "Rather than getting desperate and wanting to settle scores out there, it is better to take it match by match, do our goals day by day and session by session, play consistent cricket over the five days," he said. "It's not about settling things because in that case you get desperate and that can affect your game."
That Australia have no established spinner in their side, and none of their bowlers have been involved in a Test in India before, should make the hosts the more favoured side going into the series, but Dhoni said they were not underestimating the Australians. "People are saying that [about the lack of experience in the Australian side], but the main thing is to play good cricket over a period of time," he said. "It has nothing to do with either having experienced players in the side or not. Yes experience counts, but at the end of the day it's all about being there on the field, putting your hand up and performing well. They have players who are talented."
On a personal front, Dhoni will be making a comeback to the Test team after he had opted out of the Sri Lanka series. And playing in Tests is a different feeling in many ways: for one, he doesn't have to worry about captaining the side. "You don't lose hair, there is less pressure, but as a wicketkeeper you have to assist the captain as you can give inputs," he said at the end of the second day of the pre-series camp at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
At the camp today, the focus shifted from fitness and fielding to nets. The 13 players were divided into groups of seven and six, each comprising two pace bowlers and a spinner. The first ball of the session was bowled by Munaf Patel to Virender Sehwag; the two had an altercation in the recent Irani Cup match. They were opponents then, and team-mates now.
The batsman went in twos: one faced the India bowlers, the other the nets bowlers on the adjoining strip, and then interchanged. Sehwag-Rahul Dravid, and VVS Laxman-Mohammad Kaif were the two batting pairs in the first session.
After facing the bowlers, the pairs moved to the other set of nets where one of them faced the bowling machine, while the other, in the most interesting exercise of the day, had to pit their skills against tennis serves from the coach Gary Kirsten, after which they would interchange. Kirsten would literally serve a ball that looked like a tennis ball but was harder, the ball would either bounce awkwardly into the ribs or - if there was some slice put to it - swing away prodigiously.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo