Ahead of match against Pakistan, India captain says team achieved most of what it wanted to in warm-up fixtures
The India-Pakistan rivalry is not necessarily the oldest in cricketing history, but there is no rivalry more intense than the showdowns between the Asian giants. It’s a face-off that dates back to 1952-53, the teams having played 190 international matches – 59 Tests, 126 One-Day Internationals and 5 Twenty20 Internationals – during that period.
Pakistan has had the measure of India in Test and ODI cricket – winning 12 and losing 9 Tests, and coming up best in 72 ODIs as opposed to 50 defeats – while India has the edge in the 20-over game, having won three and lost just one match thus far. Matches between the sides are increasingly infrequent these days, but while the intensity remains undimmed, Mahendra Singh Dhoni believes the teams have learnt not to take these battles personally.
“The intensity is there, of course, it is something you cannot take away from the game, irrespective of which opposition you are playing. India-Pakistan matches always capture the imagination of people from either side,” India’s captain said on the eve of the Group 2 clash between the sides in the ICC World Twenty20 2014 on Friday (March 21). “I feel it has mellowed down to some extent. Whatever the reason maybe, you do not see many altercations on the field. But still you see very competitive cricket, which I feel is very important. Growing up used to watching some of the last generation players, it used to get quite tense. There were plenty of things happening apart from cricket on the field. We used to enjoy it as kids. I am glad that it doesn't really happen anymore because when you talk about promoting cricket and promoting it in the right way, I think more often than not, it is played in the right spirit.”
If it is India v Pakistan in the World Cup, it is impossible not to bring India’s overwhelming 8-0 record into the equation. “A lot of people talk about it but what is important is what kind of cricket you are playing on that particular day,” Dhoni emphasised. “All the teams that are participating, they have got a fantastic side. What this format does is, narrow the difference between the best sides and the not-so-good sides. Even the ones who qualify and get into the World T20, they have also got the talent to upset some of the big sides, which means we have to play good cricket and that is what it is all about. It is not really about the stats or what you have achieved in the past.”
India and Pakistan are two members of what is being referred to as the Group of Death – it also includes West Indies, the defending champions, and Australia, as well as the topper of the Group A qualifying phase, in all probability host nation Bangladesh. “What is important is to do well in each and every game. In the last World T20, we lost just one game in the qualifying round and were not able to make it to the knockout stages,” Dhoni pointed out. “Our group, it is a tough group. Each team is as good as some of the other teams but if you look at the other group also, all the teams are good. That is what this format brings. It is exciting and at the same time, the teams are balanced and they can beat each other.”
India had mixed results in its warm-up games, going down to Sri Lanka but brushing England aside. “The bowling department is still an area of concern if you compare it to our batting,” said Dhoni, reflecting on work to be done after the warm-up skirmishes. “Getting off to a good start, that is something really important for us. If we have wickets in hand, we have seen in the past that we can score maybe 10-15 runs more than what can be a par score. In a short format like this, 10-15 runs really matter. The fielding has been good. If we do well in the death bowling and bat well throughout, we have a very good chance.”
There is a lack of T20I experience amongst the quicker bowlers in particular, but Dhoni said that wasn’t necessarily a massive area of concern. “If you talk about international T20s, our fast bowlers have not played much. But they have spent a lot of time in the IPL, where the conditions are a bit similar so I think to some extent, that will help. When it comes to contribution, we would want to bowl well with the new ball,” Dhoni said. “If we can get one-two wickets with the new ball, it is considered a good start. Especially in this format, if you keep getting regular wickets, the opposition is not able to score too freely. We will try to take wickets with the new ball and then they will come on and bowl the last few overs maybe, so not very different from what the job is for the fast bowlers for some of the other teams.”
There were several positives to take away from the practice games, the captain observed. “We have achieved a lot. Through the practice games, we wanted to give the guys who were not part of the Asia Cup a fair time in the middle and I was quite happy with the way Yuvraj (Singh) and (Suresh) Raina performed. They batted well. Raina has also contributed with his bowling. Whatever we wanted to achieve from the practice games, we have achieved that. It looks set but still there are quite a few areas where we will have to improve when it comes to a proper game because you won't really have the luxury of playing 15 players (like in the warm-up games).”
Saeed Ajmal, the wily offspinner who has had reasonable success against India, again looms as a massive threat, and Dhoni acknowledged that. “He is a very good bowler. It is not as if he is dangerous against one particular nation. He is a bowler against whom you cannot score freely,” said Dhoni. “And the way Pakistan use him, they make sure you try to go for runs against him if he bowls in the slog overs or in the first six overs. He is still dangerous not only against us, but if you see all the international teams, they have had difficulty in scoring freely against him.”