Young players shouldn't get desperate - Dhoni
Finally, beach cricket has been spotted in the Caribbean. They say cricket is disappearing off the streets and beaches but one needs to visit the West Indies to see just how alarming the situation is. In the Trinidad streets it was about music, Antigua was a big village with some pretty beaches, Jamaica wore its heart on its streets. Barbados, though, fits the outsider's perception about the Caribbean. Beach. Music. And cricket.
And bounce. Barbados also promises to present the cricket pitch with the most bounce in the West Indies. The Kensington Oval, re-built before the 2007 World Cup, is a pretty stadium. It is modern and there might be those who lament changing the original ground, but the structure as it stands today looks nice. The curator says it will definitely be a result pitch. MS Dhoni, the India captain, agrees. India are thinking of going with three seamers. Munaf Patel bowled for a long time in the nets and was at his accurate best, extracting bounce from a length.
It's not the bowling but the batting that presents a few concerns for India. M Vijay is yet to click, Abhinav Mukund is yet to settle in, Virat Kohli has a point to prove, Dhoni needs a score, and Suresh Raina, despite his 82 at Sabina Park, will know that the West Indies seamers will come hard at him. The pitch should suit VVS Laxman's style of play and it will be a surprise if he doesn't get runs here.
The Indian camp seems pretty relaxed though. They have practised hard; their training sessions have extended past three hours at times. Even while still in Kingston, they used the extra day after the four-day finish to practise on the centre pitch. Duncan Fletcher, the coach, hovers around, often getting into a one-on-one chat with a batsman, Eric Simons, the bowling coach, does his job, and Trevor Penny, the fielding coach, tells anecdotes and cricket stories to some of the youngsters. It looks and feels like a happy camp. Winning can do that.
"Enjoy your cricket" is a bit of a mantra with this Indian team and Dhoni spoke a bit about his approach to handling the youngsters and how he tries to put them at ease. "Most of my chats with them are informal," Dhoni said. "I don't believe in calling someone and having a big chat because that puts a lot of added pressure on them. If somebody is doing something or involved in fielding practice then a little chit-chat at that time helps because it's informal and doesn't add any pressure."
How does he help the youngsters handle the pressure? Someone like Vijay could sweat over the lack of runs. Abhinav might put himself under pressure thinking he has to show his worth with a big score before Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir return. Kohli might think he needs to show he can play the short ball. These are all possibilities but Dhoni was confident that such insecurities won't slip into the minds of the youngsters.
"What is important is to not get desperate to score runs because then you just put pressure on yourself. Test cricket is different. There is a bit of extra pressure compared to the ODIs or the T20 format. It is very important to relax and enjoy the game."
Dhoni also said that, whether they succeeded or not, some of the young players who are in the squad as replacements for regular members will gain from the experience of playing international cricket. "At the end of the day, they will be winners because they are getting a fair amount of exposure to international cricket. Of course we will have our regular openers -Gambhir and Sehwag - back. But the youngsters would have seen what international cricket is, and how players score runs in these big matches. They will know what they need to improve on. So overall it's a big positive for us."
Dhoni said he doesn't try to fit the players into a framework. "Every character is different in and that's what we respect in this side. Everyone is free to be himself. We don't want anyone to change in a big way. For a fraction of time you can change yourself but if you are going to be in the team for a long time, then we need to accept each and every individual in the way they are.
"The way the [young] guys have conducted themselves on and off the field has been a big positive and I think they are learning a lot out of these games. Hopefully, the youngsters will back up their efforts so far in this match."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo