India calm ahead of series - Dhoni
MS Dhoni is not known to pay history too much heed. Nor does he like to call any win the best ever. When India won at P Sara Oval earlier this year with none of the frontline bowlers around, after having lost the toss in Sri Lanka, he wasn't drawn into a discussion on whether coming back to draw the series had been the biggest challenge of his captaincy career. The next Test that India played, in Mohali, swung this way and that until VVS Laxman pulled off a heist only he could. It was a day to get carried away, to sing praises, to celebrate Test cricket, but Dhoni called it merely one of the best games he had played in. Here, in South Africa for an all-important tour, Dhoni is insisting his team should not pay the future too much heed.
"It [mental state of the side] looks good," Dhoni said in his first press conference on the tour. "Most of us look very calm, very relaxed, thinking about the process and not getting caught up with other things. Which means we are quite neutral when it comes to frame of mind, which is very important for doing well.
"It's not always about history. What you have achieved in the past. It's not always about the stats. It's important to stay in the present moment, and how well we adapt."
To adapt well, India have arrived early in South Africa, with most of their stars missing the home ODI series against New Zealand. Dhoni said the preparation has been satisfactory. "Last few days have been good. We were in Cape Town, most of us. We were practising at Gary's [Kirsten, India's coach] academy, the facilities were good, we had some decent time to ourselves. Batsmen worked on a few of the things. It was quite relaxed. No hassles. Till now the preparations have been good, we still have three days to go to the Test."
A tour game would have been good for adapting to the conditions, but Dhoni persisted with his mantra of staying in the present moment. "This is what we have got right now. So we are trying to make the most of what we have got rather than thinking about what would have been better. So whatever days we have got, we are trying to make the best of it."
Dhoni and his team have been proud of the No. 1 ranking, but have mostly spoken about the processes that have got them there. However, this series is the most anticipated for this team, one that is supposed to show just how good the side really is. The extra time spent in preparation shows how important India think this series is. Dhoni, though, refused to call it a defining series, a yardstick to judge the team by.
"Not really. It's not about one series. If you talk about rankings, it is the process that takes you to a place. If you talk about our ranking, we started from September 2008, and where we are right now is because of all our performances since September 2008. It's a constant process, and one-odd series or two-odd series don't have a bearing on that. In a team sport, at times it is not possible to compare the performance with the kind of talent you have got. Because at times, you have the best players who are injured or not part of the side, and that might have a bearing on the result."
The "team sport" stayed the focal point of what Dhoni said, as he did not speak about any individual who might be a threat in the South African side. He did speak about a mini group, though, who he said were anticipating helpful conditions.
"Our bowling attack has done really well. Whatever the situations or conditions be. Whether we are playing abroad or in the subcontinent. They have done well on wickets that haven't supported them at all, with reverse swing. They adapt really well, and they adapt quickly. That is one of the main reasons for them being successful. This will be a good opportunity for them to bowl at a place that will be helpful for them."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo