Image courtesy of: ESPNcricinfo
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni has announced that the national team’s upcoming tour of England will be a huge challenge for his team, especially since “quite a few of the players will be playing their first series in England”.
Dhoni also noted that beating England will be made more difficult by the fact that India have lost veteran players like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the last few years.
“Quite a few of the players will be playing their first series in England. But most of the players in the squad have got exposure in South Africa and New Zealand, so they have got a few games behind them and they know what the challenges will be,” Dhoni said. “The good thing will be we are going a bit early, so we can take our time to get into the groove, play a few practice games and prepare ourselves.
“Besides, it’s a five-match series and I don’t think any of us have played a five-Test series. Overall, it should be good, the reason being we have enough time to prepare ourselves.
“It will be very difficult to fill the shoes of Sehwag as an opener and Rahul at No.3, Sachin coming in and then Laxman and Sourav. I think we shouldn’t compare, but think more about the current generation. They have come in and are going to serve Indian cricket. It will be a big challenge for them. The good thing is they have had good exposure, playing a few games abroad and having played a lot at home. They have the talent. It’s just that they have to get used to the conditions, apply themselves and give respect to the opposition and read the conditions.”
Dhoni is also hoping that India haven’t made a grave mistake by leaving out veteran left-arm pace bowler Zaheer Khan.
“Zak is someone who reads the game really well and I always felt that left-arm fast bowlers really have the advantage,” he said. “They can bring the ball back in and add variation of the ball going away from the batsmen. I felt from the first game he played in South Africa till the last game, there was a considerable amount of improvement.
“Zak is someone who loves to play games. The more games he plays, the better he gets. As far as missing Zaheer is concerned, I can’t really say much because with the kind of experience he has, the fast bowling unit doesn’t really have that kind of experience. Hopefully we won’t miss him, but as I said, I can’t really say anything.”
The Indian captain added that he still hasn’t forgotten about the disastrous tours of England and Australia in 2011.
“You can call it 7-0 [8-0] because after that we went to Australia and that was also a tough series for us. As I said, it’s a constant process. I think those were very difficult periods for us,” he said. “We were not winning games. We were behind in the games and were not able to compete. So the focus will be initially to get into the groove and to create competition. Once we are in a position when the game is kind of 50-50, that’s the time when we want to capitalise, so that’s what it’s all about and we are looking forward to it.
“You go through tough times. What I personally believe in is you should forget the stats. But also, it pushes you to see the areas where you have to work on to be a consistent team. These were the lessons that came out of those tough twin tours. It helped us when we came back to India and when we went to South Africa.”
Since this will be India’s first five-Test series against England in over five decades, Dhoni lauded the national selectors for picking an 18-man squad.
“What an 18-member squad does is that in case of an injury, the players who would be replacing the injured players are already used to the conditions, especially if you see the duration of the tour,” he said. “In a way, it will help us if needed and at the same time, we can get some really good practice and it will give us good bench strength. They will know the conditions and what lengths to bowl. And also the batsmen, they can get used to playing the fast bowlers a little more.
“Once the series starts, the main bowlers who have bowled a lot during matches tend to take time out [in the nets] and the other lot of bowlers will bowl at batsmen. I think it’s very important to have good practice sessions because it reflects in the games.
“It’s a good decision but at the same time, it’s something that is really needed because last time we lost quite a few players [to injury] and [replacement] players had to be flown in. We had to play them without them getting used to the conditions. It will be a good environment for the reserves to get used to the conditions, and help us when it comes to going ahead with them.”
However, while Dhoni dwelled on the fact that India were going to be missing their veterans, head coach Duncan Flether stated that England have lost a few “crucial players” as well.
“I think they [England] have lost some crucial players,” Fletcher said. “[The loss of Kevin] Pietersen has been a huge blow to them. And looking at them, they are in a rebuilding phase as well, so that’s going to make the series quite interesting.
“I do believe though that they have got some quality batters who have got a lot of experience at Test level. [Alastair] Cook and [Ian] Bell have scored some big runs up the order. The focus will be to get them out as cheaply as we can. The bowling side is fairly well-balanced.
“They have got [James] Anderson and [Stuart] Broad who have been bowling well and picking up wickets. We will focus on going there and producing as good cricket as we can. We have done that in India and we will look forward to adapt to the conditions as quickly as possible and will look to put them under pressure.”
Fletcher also conceded that the losses to England and Australia in 2011 were “not easy to take”, but added that India can stop that from happening again if they take the lead early on.
“Obviously it was disappointing. The 4-0 losses to England and Australia were not easy to take. It is difficult to tour England with a young side, but sometimes it results in an advantage,” Fletcher said. “You go out there and play some good cricket – as we did in South Africa and New Zealand – and you learn from there and I hope we can do that. I think it’s important to win a match early on in the series. It will give us the confidence that we can win the series. And you never know what the end result will be after that.”