South Africa v India, 1st ODI, Johannesburg December 5, 2013

No point blaming schedule - Dhoni

Cullinan: Indian batsmen need to use their feet more

India captain MS Dhoni has called for his new-ball bowlers to step up after his side was thrashed by 141 runs in the first ODI in Johannesburg. The visitors were typically underprepared, having spent only two-and-a-half days in South Africa before going into the match, but Dhoni said the schedule couldn't be helped.

"It is difficult [to play without warm-up games]," Dhoni said, "but at the same time, when you know the schedule, you have to mentally prepare yourself. If you ask some of the experienced players, they will say a lot of cricket is played mentally. We had two to two-and-a-half days, which gave us time to prepare ourselves mentally for the ODI."

Dhoni said he would have loved to have spent much longer in the country before playing the first international match, but said it was not possible in the present day. "What can be done?" he asked. "You'd love to come here, practise for a few days, play a few games, but nowadays the international schedule doesn't really permit that. We play throughout the year.

"If we need to get in those extra days, you don't know where they will come from. We played West Indies, had two or three days off, and came here. You have to adapt to conditions. Let us not complain about what is not there. Of course it would be lovely to get a few practice games, but at the end of the day what is important is what is in your hand."

When asked if the captain couldn't try and ensure his team had the right schedules, Dhoni's response was curt: "You keep talking about the schedule. What schedule is there, you have to follow."

What Dhoni did want his team to do, though, is not ask the batsmen to score 300 every time. "Overall it was a bad performance," he said. "It started with the bowlers initially. This was not really a 350-plus wicket. We were supposed to bowl it up, and the wicket would have done the rest. We didn't get the kind of start that was needed. At the same time we should have backed it up with some good batting, but we weren't able to do it."

The difference lay in knowing the conditions. Dale Steyn's opening spell, during which he seemed to beat the bat with every other delivery, was in stark contrast to India's bowling performance. "That's crucial. They know the conditions better than us," Dhoni said. "They know what lengths to bowl. That is one of the reasons why I want our bowlers to step up, so that you don't give away 300 runs. That puts pressure on the batsmen because they have to go after the bowling right from the first ball, which was not easy on this wicket against bowlers like Dale Steyn. If you see how he bowled to Rohit, he didn't move away from the good areas. We will have to step up overall."

Dhoni's beef was not with the death bowling - though India conceded 100 in the last six overs - but with the new ball, when the bowlers were either too full or too short. "Death bowling - over the world bowlers are going for runs," Dhoni said. "With the extra fielder inside and the fast bowlers are not able to get reverse-swing. It is the new ball that is important. Conditions will help. Bowl in the right areas, let the batsmen play good shots. Don't give them a gift."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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