Playing without Sachin Tendulkar in South Africa will be a big challenge: MS Dhoni
Mumbai: Mahendra Singh Dhoni says playing in alien conditions and that too without Sachin Tendulkar is a big challenge for his side but the Indian skipper is hopeful that playing One-dayers first will allow his batsmen settle well ahead of the Test series against South Africa.
India will play three-match ODI series ahead of two-Test series in South Africa. "If you see there is always a new start," Dhoni said about absence of Tendulkar, who retired recently last month. Dhoni said his batsmen have plenty of experience in the shorter format of the game and playing ODIs first will give them confidence for the Tests.
"Many of them have had good exposure if not in Tests, but in ODIs. It is a new challenge for all of them and a new learning curve. It is always a challenge when you go outside. Which length to bowl and to adjust to the bounce of the wickets. It is good to start with ODIs. As the batsmen can play their shots and express themselves and carry it into the Tests," he said ahead of team departure.
Asked who will perform the duties of the third opener in Tests, which has only two regulars in Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay, Dhoni surprised everyone by naming Gautam Gambhir, who is not part of the 17-member squad. "If you see, Gautam is definitely our third opener that we are considering. As of now, Vijay and Shikhar they have done really well for us. So third opener as of now is Gautam."
Later he clarified, "I know (Gambhir not being in team) but he is the third opener. But he never asked if he is part of the team."
Nevertheless, the statement by Dhoni makes it clear that Gambhir is still in the scheme of things for at least Test side.
Asked who was likely to replace Tendulkar at number four in the Test squad, Dhoni they are to yet to decide on that. "We are not decided on number 4. No one is going to replace anyone else," he said before adding in lighter vein, "If possible we will omit the number 4. And try to bat 1,2,3, 5,6... And 12."
Bowling in slog overs has been a worry for India but Dhoni was hopeful of a better performance in South Africa. "In different conditions the statistics would be different. There will be pace and bounce on offer for the fast bowlers. Along with the yorkers, they can use bouncers and a little bit pace. So we will see how it goes," he said.
"In the last few matches it has improved a lot but we are trying to see how to improve (more), so that we don`t give lot of runs in the last 10 overs. If you see our Champions Trophy performance and if you compare our death bowling you will see that it is a completely different scenario. "The ideal would be to compare how the Indian bowlers performed in the last 10 overs and how Australian bowlers performed in the death overs in the same game. Then it becomes more realistic."
Dhoni said fans will see good cricket in the series as top two sides in the world will be up against each other. "If you see both the teams are well positioned in the rankings. In ODIs it is us and in Tests it is they. It is going to be exciting and interesting series. The key is getting adjusted to conditions as early as possible," Dhoni said.
"They have a very good team, well balanced team, with genuine all-rounders," he said. Dhoni said pressure was nothing new to India. "Pressure goes hand in hand whether in India or away."
Asked if the team would use a fifth frontline bowler, Dhoni said it would be decided later. "Well it's something that we have to go there and decide. We have to see the strength of our batting line up. At the same time whether four bowlers are good enough to get the opposition out. It's something that we have weigh out," he said.
"In the last Test match also we played with four bowlers and Rohit Sharma was the one who batted at number six. If you see at times five batsmen are not enough, even six are not enough. And if you see the last two Test matches, the number six batsman has had a lot of impact on the game. We will weigh how it is and then decide."
Asked about Ravichandran Ashwin's limited exposure of playing Tests overseas, Dhoni expressed hope that the off-spinner will replicate his home success abroad. "Everybody starts from scratch, even the greatest of cricketers -- spinner or fast bowler. They always start from scratch. We have to see, may be he turns out to be brilliant outside India. He may become better than what he already has been in India. Unless you go out there and fight it out, you don't really get to know how good he is," said Dhoni.
Ashwin has played only three Tests overseas -- all in Australia -- with limited success in his short career of 18 Tests from which he has grabbed 104 wickets. Asked what would be the role of pacer Ishant Sharma, Dhoni said "let it remain a secret recipe".