India Team leave Mumbai for the Champions Trophy in South Africa
MS Dhoni, India's captain, has admitted that sloppy fielding and inconsistent bowling were two areas he was "concerned" about as the team prepared to leave Mumbai for the Champions Trophy, which starts in South Africa on September 22. India recently spent a day on top of the ICC's ODI rankings during the Compaq Cup in Sri Lanka and Dhoni wanted more consistency from his players in order to regain the No. 1 spot.
"We have done well in patches. It is not that we are consistently doing well game after game" Dhoni said. He identified bowling as a problem area, saying the bowlers had "scope to improve" in the middle and final overs.
The other deficient discipline was India's fielding. Earlier this week, India won the Compaq Cup final against Sri Lanka thanks to a century from Sachin Tendulkar and a five-for from Harbhajan Singh but their fielders dropped two easy catches and squandered three run-out opportunities. Dhoni himself missed a stumping.[/INDENT]
"We need to raise our fielding standards," Dhoni said bluntly. "It has gone down a bit for whatever reason. It has proved costly more often not. We are missing run-out opportunities and have dropped a few catches which could prove costly in any game. We are a bit concerned. Even our ground fielding, especially the boundary fielders, can make it hard for the opponents to get those extra runs."
Dhoni said that the fielders needed to be more proactive and reduce every scoring opportunity for the opposition. "If we can cut down as many as 20 runs from the opposition total that will be a big achievement."
Considering India have won their last six ODI series played in the last two years, Dhoni's worries might seem misplaced, but he is not happy riding on past glory. His pragmatism was clear when he spoke about the forthcoming challenge in South Africa.
"We are in a tough group so it would be important not to allow any slip ups and perform well right from the beginning," he said. India are pooled with Australia, Pakistan and West Indies in Group A and open their campaign with a high-pressure encounter against their neighbours at Centurion on September 26.
Dhoni, however, said he was not concerned by the "pressure of expectation". One of the reasons, according to Dhoni, India were doing well was that they weren't bothered by expectation levels because they knew that if they won the rest would take care of itself. "We think about how well-prepared we are for the games and focus on the small aspects like fitness, mental conditioning."
On the subject of player fitness, Dhoni welcomed the return of Gautam Gambhir after the opener had to pull out of the tri-series in Sri Lanka due to a groin injury. Gambhir underwent a fitness test in Mumbai today in front of coach Gary Kirsten and trainer Nitin Patel. "His return will bring a lot of relief," Dhoni said. "Not only can he provide good starts but he can stay put till the end of the innings."
India's batsmen had struggled against the short ball on lively tracks in England during the World Twenty20 in June as well as in the following ODI series in the Caribbean, but Dhoni disagreed when asked if the problem would persist. "The last time it happened was in the World Twenty20, where you hardly have time to adjust as you look to go after the bowler. What happens in a 50-over game is you can pick and choose. In Twenty20 you see it as an opportunity to score runs."
Another reason Dhoni wasn't bothered about opponents using a short-pitched attack was the presence of Rahul Dravid in the top order. "It is good to have players who have faced similar conditions and been under pressure. Guys like Rahul, who bats at No.3, are an asset to the side," Dhoni said. "In South Africa, where the conditions help the fast bowlers, he is the kind of batsman who is suited to deal with the situation.
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