Chennai: Dec 12, 2011
Indian cricket captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni reckons that the upcoming four-Test series is his team's "best chance" of upstaging Australia in their own backyard but will not take them lightly despite their recent slump.
India and Australia will square off from December 26 in a highly-anticipated series in which the visitors seem to have a good chance given the struggle through transition that Michael Clarke's men are enduring.
On a day the Indian players head Down Under, Australia were upstaged in a Test at home by New Zealand for the first time in 26 years.
"Even last time we had a very good chance and we did perform well. It is not like that the opposition is not doing well (but) it will be the best chance for us," Dhoni told reporters in a pre-departure press conference here in the south Indian city.
"We have to play to the kind of talent that we have got and not worry about such things. We need to work on our strengths and weaknesses. We are more concerned about where we need to work on and not worry about what kind of opposition we are playing," the skipper stated.
India's two first- choice pacers -- Praveen Kumar and Varun Aaron -- were ousted even before the tour started but Dhoni insisted that led by the experienced Zaheer Khan, bowling will click Down Under.
"Our bowlers are talented. Of course, when you do not have your main bowlers you need a bit of time. Once the youngsters play more and more games, that is how they get experienced at the top level.
"I think talent wise we are there. We have a good exposure for the youngsters who are part of the side now touring Australia," he said.
Dhoni took a break from cricket by opting out of the just-concluded ODI series against the West Indies at home and he said he is back a rejuvenated man.
"I needed the break and I am happy that I got it. The team also did really well. I am looking forward to the Australian tour," he said.
"We had enough time for some preparation also before the start of the first test match that we play. Looking good as of now. Hopefully we do not have too many injuries before the start of the Test series," he added.
Asked which aspect of the game the Indian team needs to improve on, Dhoni said, "You want to improve in all departments always. You have seen cricketers who have been part of international cricket for more than 10 years still believe in improving and they keep improving. It is a constant process and everyone is part of it."
But he did hope that Indian fielders, certainly not the best in circuit by their own admission, would latch on to catches that come their way in Australia.
"We would like to improve in all the three departments.
Catching will be very crucial. Last series that we played in India we did not have so many catching fielders. We need to have a bit more catching fielders. They say catches will win matches.
"It is true so that will be one of the areas where we have to work on. On big grounds, running between wickets and trying to keep the batsman on strike are also necessary. All these small things help you put pressure on the opposition," he explained.
Despite the couple of injury setbacks before the tour, Dhoni hoped that players would remain fit through the gruelling tour, which also features a tri-nation ODI series in February-March.
"If you see the injury list, it is quite blank as of now.
More often than not, the 15 or 16 who are in the team will be ready for selection to play. That takes a bit of pressure off and you need not worry about the playing eleven that much and most of players get their berths on merit.
"Apart from that, if you see, the batting lineup is quite the same. Bowling wise we have got Umesh Yadav who can bowl over 140 kmph. I think it looks like a good pack. We need to do well on the field rather than looking at it as to how we look on paper," he said.
Tours to Australia almost always include a bit of controversy, the ugliest of which was perhaps the 2008 'monkeygate scandal'.
The two protagonists of the drama -- Indian off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and Australian all-rounder Andrew Symonds -- are both not part of the series this time and Dhoni hoped that there wouldn't be any face-offs of that kind.
"We will try to keep the fireworks off. It is not about the fireworks that go on on-the-field but still you know there are chances like we have seen that both the sides have talented players. Someone like Virender Sehwag start showing there will be fireworks on the field."
"Not on the verbal side but with the bat. And if the bowlers are going the ball will do the talking. Hopefully, we will keep the controversy away," Dhoni said.
Indian coach Duncan Fletcher, who was also present at the media interaction, said having around half a dozen players including Sachin Tendulkar early in Australia will work to India's advantage.
"...we have some of the players early to Australia. By putting up two warm-up games you hope that they adapt during that period of time. Probably it is not easy enough. Perhaps at the nets if they give us the same set of quality and from that they will be able to adapt enough. We will see when we go in to the first Test," he said.
On Zaheer's fitness status, given his history of breaking down on long tours, Fletcher said, "From the reports that I get, Zaheer had come to Mumbai and bowled at the nets there and he looked impressive."
"I think it is very important that he looked to be in very good condition from what we saw in him even when he came to England.
"Secondly, he has got these two games. It will be preparation for him. We do not want to rush him too quickly.
The one three day game there will be important for him before the first Test," he added.
Fletcher said India would play to their strength without thinking Australia's weakness and remaining injury free would be crucial to win the Test series.
"It is important we don't look at their game but make sure that we performed what we are capable of and stay away from injuries. If we do these we have got good chance in Australia. They got some cricketers who are out of form. We just got to be wary and keep them out of form. We got to play to such areas," he said.
"If we are in complacent attitude before going there, it is not good for the team. It is important that we go there with the feelings that they have the best of bowling attack and good batsmen in their rank. We got to be very wary and put up right kind of performances," he added.
Fletcher said giving breaks to fast bowlers was important and Ishant Sharma was feeling fresh in the Test series against the West Indies.
"Ishant has had a nice rest and come through. He was totally free from injury when he finished the Test in Mumbai.
He has gone out there fresh. That is important that they have little breaks between series.
"The youngsters in the team are keen listeners and they have already started talking about the tour. It is just a matter of talking to them on one-on-one to make them think about the game. Most important thing is not to make too complicated for them and making sure that they are confident about their ability," said Fletcher.
Virender Sehwag was at his explosive best with the highest individual ODI score of 219 against the West Indies in Indore and Dhoni said it was good omen for the team ahead of the Test series in Australia.
"When it comes to Sehwag you cannot really say that he is not in form. Always he comes up with a brilliant innings like the one during the one-dayers. He puts pressure on the bowler.
In a Test match, if Sehwag stays there for even 30 or 40 overs, he can score a lot of runs," he said. (PTI)