Cardiff, Jun 6 (DHNS): The last fortnight has been nothing but a harrowing turmoil for the Indian cricket team and particularly for skipper MS Dhoni.
As if the weight of expectations wasn’t enough, the team has been getting attention for all the wrong reasons. From the spot-fixing scandal in the just-concluded Indian Premier League VI to an avoidable controversy that Dhoni’s ‘silence’ during the pre-departure press conference created, it was hardly the ideal build-up the team would have hoped for ahead of the Champions Trophy.
India’s performances in the two warm-up matches, however, have shown little sign of team getting bogged down by the events unfolding off the field. Their two convincing wins, and more crucially from precarious positions, over Sri Lanka and Australia have proved that the team is in the right frame of mind going into their Group ‘B’ match against South Africa here at the Cardiff Wales Stadium on Thursday.
“I think these are all the stuff that we're not even thinking about or don’t even cross
our minds,” Dhoni said when asked if there have been any distraction going forward. “What we are really looking forward to is the challenge,” he added.
Watching the performance of his team no one can dispute his claims. In the first practice game against Sri Lanka on Saturday, Virat Kohli and Dinesh Karthik bailed India out of trouble with fluent centuries while chasing a big total. On Tuesday, their bowlers came to the party, none more effectively than Umesh Yadav, as they demolished Australia by 243 runs.
While bowlers made a telling statement after a poor show against Sri Lanka, batting made a fine recovery once again with Karthik leading the way with his second century (146 n.o., 140b, 17x4, 1x46) in a row. Dhoni too sparkled with a 77-ball 91 as India pulverised Australian attack from being 55/5 at one stage.
Karthik has been in the form of his life. He has followed up his domestic form with two impressive knocks that makes him an automatic choice in the 11 against South Africa.
With Dhoni making it clear that he would want batsmen to play in their normal positions and not tinker with the order, Rohit Sharma finding a place seems improbable though the opening combination of M Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan has looked a bit shaky in the two warm-up matches. While Karthik does open for Tamil Nadu and South Zone, Dhoni insisted he would prefer the right-hander to bat between three and five.
The bowling appears more or settled with Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma being the first choice pacemen. R Ashwin and all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja will complete the five bowlers that Dhoni wants to play under new ODI rules that came into effect last year. India has played under new playing conditions against England at home but are yet to come to grips with them.
South Africa, on the other hand, are struggling with injury worries to their key players. They have already lost Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis for entirely different reasons before the tournament and their strike bowler Dale Steyn looks highly unlikely for the India match after a side strain that he sustained against Pakistan in a warm-up game.
“It’s obviously not looking good,” said skipper AB de Villiers about Steyn’s injury. “We’ll just reassess tonight and tomorrow morning and make a final call on that. There are a few more games coming up. It’s not the one and only game, so we wouldn’t like to get him out of the rest of the tournament,” he pointed out.
Champions Trophy Schedule
June 6 India vs South Africa Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
June 7 Pakistan vs West Indies Kennington Oval, London
June 8 England vs Australia Edgbaston, Birmingham
June 9 New Zealand vs Sri Lanka Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
June 10 (D/N) Pakistan vs South Africa Edgbaston, Birmingham
June 11 India vs West Indies Kennington Oval, London
June 12 Australia vs New Zealand Edgbaston, Birmingham
June 13 (D/N) England vs Sri Lanka Kennington Oval, London
June 14 South Africa vs West Indies Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
June 15 India vs Pakistan Edgbaston, Birmingham
June 16 England vs New Zealand Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
June 17 (D/N) Australia vs Sri Lanka Kennington Oval, London
June 19 First semifinal Kennington Oval, London
June 20 Second semifinal Sophia Gardens, Cardiff
June 23 Final Edgbaston, Birmingham
Matches start at 3.00 pm IST. D/N matches start at 5.30 pm IST.