India's happy hunting ground
Following the absence of the regular openers, Shikhar Dhawan is likely to be handed his international debut in Wednesday's second ODI between India and Australia at Visakhapatnam, says Harish Kotian.
The Dr Y S Rajasekhara Reddy stadium in Visakhapatnam brings back many happy memories for India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Visakhapatnam, also known as the City of Destiny, was certainly instrumental in shaping Dhoni's destiny as a cricketer. It was at this very stadium that Dhoni announced himself to the world. The right-hander blasted an entertaining 148, hitting 15 fours and four sixes in 123 balls, to help India outclass Pakistan by 52 runs in a One-dayer in April 2005.
India have also enjoyed a good run at the picturesque venue, registering wins against neighbours Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
However, Dhoni was quick to point out that history counts for nothing and both teams will need to start from scratch in Wednesday's second One-day International.
"That time was different, this is a different tournament and in every tournament you have to start from scratch. I have happy memories from here -- from the first game that I have played over here -- but to be on top and to do well you have to be well-prepared for everything that comes your way.
"It's not about past, it's not about the future. It's all about the present what you are doing," Dhoni said after the Indian team trained at the Vizag stadium for nearly three hours in extremely hot weather.
Image: MS Dhoni checks his bat during a practice session in Vizag
Yuvraj is a key player
Yuvraj Singh, who is the most experienced player in the Indian squad, also has happy memories of the venue. In the last match that India played here, the left-hander slammed a quickfire 95 not out to guide India to a convincing seven-wicket victory over the Lankans.
But a spate of injuries and loss of form has seen the left-hander being dropped from the Test squad, and now there is pressure on him to deliver in the ODIs.
However, Dhoni firmly backed the Punjab left-hander, though adding his contribution with both and ball will be crucial.
"As I have always said, batting at number four our batting has always revolved around him [Yuvraj]. He is a kind of player who can change gears at any point of game and take control of the game. At the same time he has played over 250 ODIs, which means he has got a lot of experience behind him," he said.
Image: Yuvraj Singh plays football during a practice session
'Yuvraj has got both dimensions of the game'
Interestingly, Yuvraj has failed to live up to expectations in the last couple of years. He has scored 954 runs in 30 matches at 34.07 since January 2009, while youngsters like Suresh Raina (1152 runs in 48 games @37.16) and Virat Kohli (968 runs in 29 games @44) have performed better than the left-hander.
But Dhoni pointed out that Yuvraj also made important contributions with the ball, which gave the team the much-needed balance.
"His bowling is very important for us because if we decide to play with four bowlers, we will use the other part-timer as the fifth bowler. Then his bowling comes into play and he has done decently well for us with the ball. If it is his game then he bowls really well and gets two-three wickets for us also at times.
"We are expecting him to score runs in this game and it looks like a good track, but the track will look different tomorrow before the start of the game; it is still a bit damp. If you do well in batting it reflects in your bowling and vice-versa. He has got both dimensions of the game and that will help us," he added.
Image: Yuvraj Singh
Nehra is the go-to man for Dhoni
Dhoni was again all praise for his pacers, Ashish Nehra and Praveen Kumar, who have dished out good performances in ODIs in the last few series.
"Nehra the kind of experience he has got, practises daily really hard and works hard on his weaknesses. His strength is that he can bowl yorkers really well. Now-a-days if you see a scoreboard, it is not an ideal reflection of what the bowlers have done.
"In one of the games Nehra went for 64 runs in his 10 overs and somebody said that it was not a good bowling display, and I said, 'listen, apart from the two overs, the rest of the eight overs he was bowling in the power plays'. Depending on that it is very difficult to say what is a good bowling performance, but he still works on his strengths and weaknesses.
"When it comes to Praveen Kumar he is street-smart cricketer; he has played a lot cricket at domestic level and that really helps. For different batsmen you have to quickly come up with different plans, depending upon what their strengths and weaknesses are and, more often than not, he is ready with plans, and he backs himself with the field he has got.
"Zaheer has been doing really well. He is again a very different character and his theories are very different compared to other bowlers. More than the field placing and everything else, I am more convinced with the skill and the way he executes his plans. He is a different talent to have in the side. At the same time, he helps the other bowlers to perform," the Indian skipper added.
Image: Praveen Kumar during a practice session
'We don't want our big players to get injured'
Once again Dhoni dropped a few hints on India's squad for the World Cup, making it clear that they are looking for an all-rounder. He also revealed that the senior players were rested in the last few series to keep them fit for the next year's World Cup.
"It depends on the kind of talent you have got; if you had a good all-rounder you would have gone in with him but you don't have one you generally go in with a big hitter who can exploit the power play and the slog overs, especially in the sub-continental conditions.
"We will have to see what exactly we have got and what we decide to go in with. As far as the preparation is concerned, I think, it's going on pretty well, just that in the last few series we have not played with the strongest side.
"We rested most of the players because injuries are a big concern and we don't want our big players to get injured before a big tournament like the World Cup which is happening in India. We are a bit cautious but we are hopeful that everyone will be fit and fresh for the World Cup," the 29-year-old said.
Image: Sachin Tendulkar
'Shikhar will most likely make his debut'
Following the absence of their regular openers, India are all set to give Shikhar Dhawan his international debut.
"I think Shikhar will most likely make his debut tomorrow," said Dhoni adding: "I think he has done well; there have been ups and downs in his career, but he has been quite consistent. He has done well in the IPL and whatever cricket he has played. So he has got an opportunity. It is good that he has got the chance finally and I am hoping he will score and the bench strength will become a bit stronger when it comes to the openers."
The first match in Kochi on Sunday was rained out, while the third match will be played in October 25 in Goa.
Image: Shikhar Dhawan