India in South Africa 2013-14 December 1, 2013

Dhoni not fretful about India's inexperienced Test squad


There was a time when a day before departure for a big tour would be the day for a captain to state intent or unwittingly reveal fears. With India's most successful Test captain MS Dhoni, though, it has always been about cooling things down a bit. Hours before he and team-mates left for the big - not long - tour of South Africa, you couldn't tell if Dhoni was the captain of a side that has won its last six Tests at home or one that has lost its last eight away. Or if the team is going to carry the confidence accumulated over the home season or doubts sown on the previous two trips - to England and to Australia.

What is certain is, this is India's most inexperienced batting line-up in a long, long time, India don't have enough time to acclimatise to the conditions, and the conditions will be vastly different from what they are used to. About this being a new side Dhoni said even Sachin Tendulkar at some point played for the first time, about the lack of time he said the big help will be that the ODIs will be played before the Tests, and he didn't shy away from the challenge of facing the bouncing and moving ball, something his side will need to get used to.

"Well if you see there is always a new start," Dhoni said when asked about cricket Indian cricket after Tendulkar. "When paaji [Tendulkar] played his first Test match that was his first Test match.

"What's fairly important is that they [the new batsmen] have a good amount of exposure - even though it's ODIs - outside India. That always helps you adjust to the pace and bounce of the wicket. It will be a new challenge for all of them, at the same time it is a learning curve. It's the first time that they will be going there, and they will learn a lot in the series."

Dhoni knows his team might be kids when it comes to international experience - especially in testing conditions - but they won't be treated with kid gloves should they fail. "There is a one thing for sure," Dhoni said. "If you don't perform and you're part of the team, whether you're playing your first Test or 50th Test match, criticism goes hand in hand so that's something you can't really get away from. If you don't perform you will be criticised.

"What they need to keep in mind, what's really in their hands, is to prepare properly. Also, concentrate on what little things they need to do so that they're successful. I think it's all about that. Good exposure."

Dhoni was hopeful the sequence of the tour - ODIs, followed by a tour game, followed by the Tests - will help his side counter the reality of Indian cricket: no proper preparation for big tours. "I think it is always a challenge when you go and play abroad," Dhoni said. "You are competing against the home team, and they know the conditions well. Their fast bowlers always know which length to bowl and also the areas in which they need to bowl. I feel the batsmen will have to quickly adjust to the bounce, see the deliveries which they can leave and push the bowlers to bowl at them instead of going to the bowlers.

"But of course starting with the ODIs it is always a help. When you get to play the shots, you get rid of nerve factor initially. We are playing three ODIs initially, the guys will be expressing themselves, will be playing shots and then they will be carrying it forward into the Test matches as well. The good thing is that there won't be too many changes when you compare the Test squad to the ODI squad."

Dhoni was a bit combative - in his quiet manner - when asked the regular questions before overseas tours. About the pace battery, he said he is always asked about the pace battery wherever he tours, and his response on the microphone cannot change. About the pressure, he said India are supposed to be under pressure even when they play Ireland, so he can't help those expectations. When the statistics of India's bowling at death was compared to South Africa's, Dhoni was quick to bring up Indian conditions and the fact that they had good stats when they did play in England.

Before leaving, Dhoni made it a point to emphasise that the new players should be allowed to develop in their own right, and not be compared to the Tendulkars and Dravids. "If possible, we will omit the No. 4 position," Dhoni joked. "One, two, three, five six, seven and then we'll play till 12. But again, it's not about one individual. Whoever bats at that slot, it is not pressure on that individual saying he is replacing Sachin Tendulkar. There is no replacing anyone. He brings his own character into the side.

"Whoever is going to bat at No. 4, as of now, we have not decided. There is hardly any break for us to decide who will bat at No. 4. But again, every slot, especially when talking about Test cricket, it's an important slot. The top two, No. 3, No. 4, they have their own importance. It's a set-up that's given by them that really helps the team, score big runs and put a big total on board and give bowlers that extra help so that they can afford to try out a few things that need to be tried. Overall, we don't know who will be batting at No. 4 but there is no replacing the individual."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Anthony on December 4, 2013, 8:33 GMT

    What making things even for this One-day series is , India is back from two successful ODI series and South Africa has been beaten in their own backyard by Pakistan. Confidence recovery plus home advantage should be equal to Peak of Confidence plus touring overseas. South Africa's strength is pace attack spearhead by Steyn backed by Morkel and Philandar , India's strength is the power packed batsmen. Vice-versa Zak,Bhuvi and Shami vs Amla,Devillers and Kallis also is intriguing. Perhaps Ashwin and Jadeja is something which India scores over Peterson or Imran Tahir. Can't wait to watch.

  • Ashok on December 3, 2013, 14:24 GMT

    @Vilander: In your opinion India may be a "Rookie Team" but it is easily the most attractive batting line up in the world. Each of the batsman has his own characteristic style which is unique. On the other hand the SA side is a team of aging Stars some of whom are on the verge of retirement. Older guys are prone to injuries. So firstly just hope that SA side will remain fit thru' this short tour. So much is made of the SA pitches by the "Media" to play mind games with the Indian batsmen. It is a matter of adaptability & a young side should be able to do it pretty fast. Irrespective of your comments, it won't be a cake walk for SA as you are hoping. It will be a closely fought series. I won't be surprised if India win both the ODI & Test series because they have the Talent, Discipline, Ability & Determination to do so. These attributes carried them to #1 in ODI format & #2 in Test format - Great achievement for a Team you call "Rookies"!

  • Srinivas on December 3, 2013, 5:35 GMT

    @mzm149, While I appreciate your 'deep concern' for Indians, I didn't know that you could prepare us for what to expect by twisting facts; using dubious circular logic and spinning a tangential story. Do come back after the series. I'll be waiting for your excuses again. Or else comment now about the pitches straight away - what do you think - the pitches will be pace friendly or batting paradises or spin friendly? Don't tell us about the nature of the pitches after the tour is over and depending on who wins the series. And why is it a sin if India or Pakistan or Sri Lanka win on spin-friendly tracks? Aren't the Eng/Aus/SA batsmen supposed to show their skills on such tracks? And why is it a sin if India or Pakistan or Sri Lanka win on batting friendly wickets? Aren't the opposing teams supposed to show their skills on such tracks? Do you get my point dude? It's high time followers from sub-continent stop belittling sub-continent tracks.

  • Dummy4 on December 3, 2013, 5:12 GMT

    SA has pace. India has young guns whose bats can set the match ablaze. Dhoni is a fearless warrior and when he is on song, bowlers watch out. Then u have Amla - class and consistency packaged into one. How much more can u expect of a test encounter?

  • Jay on December 3, 2013, 5:01 GMT

    @Vilander: Just to let you know, stats don't matter for the future, especially to a young team like India. Whatever Indian teams of the past did has ZERO bearing on these dynamic group of players. Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman were brilliant players but they were 'old school' with OLD thinking, obsolete tactics and athleticism on field. These young Indian guys are of the modern era - fearless players playing fearless cricket in a new age led by one of the finest captains in Indian history; a man who has won everything. Unlike your opinion about India, I think SA are a very good team and India needs to play consistent cricket to beat them. But to say that SA are unbeatable is laughable considering they just lost to one of the most inconsistent teams ever (PAK).

  • Manesh on December 3, 2013, 4:50 GMT

    If a less talented Pakistan can beat SA in SA, India can do better even if SA calling their seniors for this series.

  • Jay on December 3, 2013, 4:47 GMT

    @Vilander: Just like the way SA keep losing games to India in INDIA ? When was the last time SA won anything in India ? You have to go back to the late 90s for that. No matter how you butter up your comment, it is evident you are a SA fan boy with no coherent or clear sporting spirit. I just love people like you. Cause when India beat your beloved team, I would like to see what you write up in your comments.

  • Al on December 3, 2013, 2:47 GMT

    MSD should be extremely happy with this team. They are young - and they will listen to him. Now he doesn't have to worry about non-performing Seniors who were guaranteed a place in the team irrespective of whether they scored or not. It would have been better if our Selectors had picked Rishi Dhawan instead of Ishant Sharma, and taken Jaffer as second opener.

  • Sheik on December 3, 2013, 1:39 GMT

    One advise to usual Pak trolls here wishing Ind a whitewash - get a life!..your team's pathetic show in the recently concluded "home" series thrashing (4-1) at the hands of a SA "B" team was evidence enough that Pak is an ordinary team with over hyped bowlers and a Primary school batting lineup.

  • Dummy4 on December 3, 2013, 1:00 GMT

    I wish our 11 approach Test matches as test matches and concentrate on the basics. If Batsmen focus on occupying, I am sure, we will give a good fight and match SA in their conditions. Vijay, Pujara and Kohli must play the anchor while Dhawan and Rohit need to absolutely judicious. In a way, Gambhir would be the best fit to fill the other batting slot instead of Jadja. In all, let us wish them all the best and hope they acquire the transition skills from one form to other form very naturally as it's the norm of the day.