Dhoni confident of batting revival
Despite two flop shows in the tournament, the Indian team's morale ahead of the crunch match against New Zealand seems to be pretty high. MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina were involved in a brief, fun game of tennis-ball cricket with some of the local net bowlers ahead of practice. There was plenty of banter between the Indian batsmen and the bowlers during the nets, mostly debating whether a particular shot would have cleared an imaginary fielder or not.
There was serious training as well. Gary Kirsten had one-on-one chats with several of the young batsmen after giving them throw-downs in the nets, pointing out chinks in technique. For Monday's optional session, 12 members of the side turned up, instead of the usual half a dozen or so.
"I think the preparation has been very good," Dhoni, the India captain, said. "Hopefully execution will also be good tomorrow."
With Dambulla's pitches different in character to the usual subcontinental tracks, Dhoni stressed the need to be watchful at the start of the innings. "It's more about the mindset because in one-day cricket you're so used to going after and hitting the bowlers right from the first delivery," he said. "[Usually if you] give respect to the bowlers for the first 10 overs, the next 40 overs are yours. This is one of those venues where you have to prolong the respect for bowlers by another 10 overs."
India folded for 88 and 103 in two matches, sandwiching a victory crafted by a Virender Sehwag special, but Dhoni wasn't overly worried about the batting. "I won't be bothered too much," he said. "But if it's said that this is the batting strength of our side, I won't agree with that. One thing we can't deny is that we have had two batting failures and we have to rectify the problem, get on the wicket and try to score some runs."
In both defeats, the loss of wickets led to a near halt in the scoring: after losing the third wicket against Sri Lanka, India made 13 runs in seven overs, while the corresponding number in the opening game against New Zealand was six runs in five overs. Dhoni called for a more enterprising approach. "Most of the batsmen are trying to battle through and there are times when you can't do that. If you get eight or 10 runs off five overs, it doesn't really help you. You have to be brave enough to play your big shots or challenge the bowler. You have to keep speculating and you have to try and make a way through the opposition."
Rohit Sharma is one batsmen having a horrid time, rarely looking comfortable at the crease all tournament, but he got a vote of confidence from his captain. "It's a tricky situation for him," Dhoni said. "There's pressure when you are always in and out of the side. Especially on these wickets. Unfortunate to get out once when he didn't get the umpire's decision in his favour. He is working hard and his fitness has improved a lot."
Wasim Akram reportedly called some of the Indian youngsters 'softies', a charge Dhoni denied. "They have done really well in adverse and difficult conditions. Whether it's in Australia or the T20 World Cup or some of the other tournaments where we were not at our best," Dhoni said. "I think the guys are courageous enough to go through any conditions or situations thrown at them. We are just on the back foot right now, with the conditions maybe. But these are the boys who will ultimately be part of the Indian cricket team now or sometime later."
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo