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India-England series: Dhoni optimistic team can banish away-day blues

On eve of first Test against England, India skipper Dhoni insists he had seen signs of progress on the team's two most recent tours, of South Africa and New Zealand

NOTTINGHAM (UK): India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni believes his largely youthful side can put their miserable away record behind them as they prepare for their first five-Test series in England in 55 years.

Dhoni's men haven't won a Test outside of India since they beat the the West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica, in June 2011 -- a run now stretching to more than three years and spanning 14 matches.

But wicketkeeper Dhoni, speaking at Trent Bridge where the first Test against England starts on Wednesday, insisted he had seen signs of progress on the team's two most recent tours, of South Africa and New Zealand.

Duncan Fletcher and MS Dhoni
India coach Duncan Fletcher (left) and captain MS Dhoni during net practice for the first Test between England and India at Trent Bridge cricket ground, Nottingham, England, on Tuesday.

"There have been a lot of changes in the Indian side in the last one-and-half or close to two years," Dhoni said Tuesday.

"If you talk about the last two Test series that we played abroad -- in South Africa and New Zealand -- the performance of our team was really good.

"Though we lost both the series, we were definitely in a position to win the series," the wicketkeeper-batsman added, one of only three players in the tour squad along with seamer Ishant Sharma and back-up batsman Gautam Gambhir to have played a Test in England.

"If I compare between the first Test we played in South Africa and the last Test we played in New Zealand there has been considerable improvement."

For India, one challenge this series, as it was when they were thrashed 4-0 on their last visit to England three years ago, is taking 20 wickets a match at reasonable cost, with the strength of the current side its top-order batting.

Like many teams, India -- who've won only three Test series in England, in 1971, 1986 and 2007 -- are searching for a seam-bowling all-rounder.

Someone who could fit the bill in the current squad is the uncapped Stuart Binny, whose father Roger, himself an all-rounder, was one of the stars of India's 1986 tour of England.

"We have always talked about not having that genuine seaming all-rounder because of that we have to play with three fast bowlers and one spinner and if the pitch is not turning then a lot of effort, work needs to be shared by the fast bowlers," Dhoni explained.

"Stuart is someone who can bowl a bit and at the same time bat as well. If we can give him enough chance and groom him, then he can be someone who can do that job for us in the next six months.

"He won't be as good as someone like (South Africa's Jacques) Kallis but he can be someone who can bowl that 10 overs and bat a bit, he has got the talent."

Meanwhile Dhoni said he welcomed the input of now retired India great Rahul Dravid, the captain of the 2007 side that triumphed in England.

"We want a mentor with the side, who can talk about his past experiences over here," explained Dhoni.

"It's all about him interacting with the youngsters, and they are also comfortable talking to him."

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