Business as usual for Dhoni
Mahendra Singh Dhoni insists his India team can handle the pressure of expectation against England tomorrow - because they are so used to doing so.
The India captain cannot remember a time when he and his team-mates were free of huge responsibility to deliver the hopes of a cricket-mad nation.
His opposite number Andrew Strauss suggested today that India’s abundant collective skill might be compromised by the knowledge that more than a billion supporters will be anticipating victory from their heroes in the World Cup Group B match at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.
But Dhoni has known nothing different throughout his seven-year international career, and knows he will be leading 10 others equally used to those circumstances.
“One thing about the Indian cricket team - it was 2004 when I made my debut - I have never played a series when we’re not under pressure, whether it is the pressure of winning the game or of playing against strong opponent,” said the wicketkeeper-batsman.
“Most of the guys are used to it, especially since the IPL when you’re playing for the franchise and under pressure to win games and qualify for the next stage.”
Dhoni declined to attach any extra importance to a match against England than any other in this tournament, for which co-hosts India are favourites.
“For us each and every game is important,” he added. “We prepare likewise for every game - Bangladesh, England, Australia, Ireland. It’s an important game, but the preparation remains the same.”
Nor is Dhoni inclined to acknowledge his team need to pay special attention to the mercurial batting talents of England’s Kevin Pietersen.
Strauss believes every opposition team will be wary of Pietersen’s match-winning potential, especially following his surprise move up to open the batting in this campaign. But Dhoni said: “We have to prepare for their whole squad.
“They have a few players who can change the course of a game. But we have to prepare for everyone, not just one. When it comes to an international side, most of them are very talented.”
That is not to say the India captain is taking the threat from England lightly, in this match between two teams with one victory from one attempt so far under their belts.
“I think it’s a very intent English squad, and they have outdone us quite a few times,” he added. “They must have prepared well for this tournament.”
England themselves will know the damage which can be inflicted by any one of several superstar home batsmen - not least opener Virender Sehwag.
He opened his campaign with a marginally more studied approach than usual, on his way to a one-day international-best 175 against Bangladesh in Dhaka a week ago.
Sehwag spoke beforehand of his intention to try to bat through the innings, a target which has not come naturally to such an instinctive aggressor.
Dhoni said: “I don’t have a problem with him batting 50 overs. But the opposition will have a problem if he bats 50 overs.”
Sehwag, who suffered a minor shoulder injury when he was hit in net practice yesterday, is - like his opening partner Sachin Tendulkar (knee) - reported fit to play tomorrow. India’s only injury doubt is over left-arm pace bowler Ashish Nehra (groin).