The Indian cricket team is in "sixth gear" after a perfect buildup heading into the World Twenty20 Championship but captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni today said the side cannot afford to take things for granted given the format's fickle nature.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
India blanked Australia in their own backyard, beat Sri Lanka at home before capturing the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. In the course of these triumphs, Dhoni's men lost just one game making it the near-perfect build-up campaign for the team which won the inaugural Championship back in 2007.
"I think we are running on sixth gear. Technology has gone into the eighth gear but the kind of stuff we are doing on the field is adequate for any level of game. We have to see the focus should be on from the very first ball. I think everything is set, there're not anymore gears to operate on.
I am really quite happy with the progress," Dhoni said at the pre-tournament news conference where the main draw matches will start on March 15.
India will be up against New Zealand in their opening match in Nagpur on March 15. "Let's not say it's happening in India so it belongs to us. Especially in the shorter formats, the difference becomes smaller and smaller. Every team has a chance, if we play to our potential and execute our plans then we definitely have a chance."
Dhoni said it was a big relief for him to see that the young duo of Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya have managed to gel with the team along with comeback veteran Ashish Nehra.
"Definitely, I feel happy, it's a big relief. It's a relief to have death bowlers. 99 per cent of the time I know who's bowling the death. The job becomes easy. The whole bowling department is doing well. I don't have to put a lot of effort."
On the preparation front, the buildup to India's successful campaign in winning the 2011 World Cup may be different but expectations are the same, said World Cup winning Indian skipper.
"Frankly it's the difficult to remember the 2011 World Cup. When it comes to expectations, I don't think it's any lesser than in 2011. It's difficult to remember the preparations we went through before the 2011 World Cup but as far as this preparation is concerned, we have had a perfect
"We won the Australia series, the bilateral series with Sri Lanka, than winning a tournament like Asia Cup, we are looking right on track. Fitness will be one of the concerns.
Because of fitness you may lose one of the first XI. Unless it's a ball hit injury or like that, we will be quite happy," he said.
Quizzed about his batting position which he shuffles as per match situation, Dhoni said he would continue the finisher's role of hitting it big in minimum deliveries.
"I always felt good when it comes to batting. Up and down keeps happening in the batting department. You have to see the opportunity you're getting. It depends how much opportunity. I felt I had a decent opportunity. 90 per cent of time I will be playing the same kind of role as I played in the Asia Cup, playing 10-12 ball innings. I'm ready for the challenges," he said.
Dhoni said being a finisher, he has a complex part to play in the team. The wicketkeeper-batsman also lauded Virat Kohli for his ability to play the finisher's role despite being top-order batsman.
"For me a finisher is a lower order batsman. The top order batsman is always sets up the innings but it's always useful to have somebody like Virat at no 3 who has the ability to finish the game. But when the opposition scores big it is important for your 5-6-7 to finish the game. The entire set up is for the lower order batsman to finish the game.
"But I think the finishers will be the batsmen who usually bat lower down the order. The job profile is very different. You have to think twice before hitting lower down the order as you have less batsmen after you. It's a complex job. If you have three batsmen of Virat's calibre then more often than not they will finish," he added.
Evaluating the challenge that awaits India, Dhoni said pinch-hitters will play a crucial role in the tournament. "It's difficult to measure the challenges. It's a world class tournament. Every team is very good. Every team has a set of players who can play big shots. All teams have fantastic bowlers and good all-rounders.
"It's quite even, it's not like you're far away from each other. I feel at start everything will boil down to how well you play on the particular day. I don't think you can take a side lightly, a big hitter can really change a game if he plays a big innings," he said.
"When it comes to my role, I felt not everybody can be flexible according to needs. At times if you have a good partnership, and if you have the flexibility and adaptability the job becomes easier. This kind of adaptability is needed.
We have played enough cricket to be open to the idea," Dhoni added.
India will face West Indies in a warm-up match on March 10 to at the Eden Gardens here which will also host the summit clash April 3.
The Indian skipper, however, said they are not thinking too far but it's about be in the top of the game in the knockouts. "I feel it's a long way off to think of the final. We will slowly go into warm-up games and take one game at a time. All sides are very good. The build up will depend on the way we start. I don't think I will have to worry about the final.
We will have to worry about the preparation and execution," he said.
The wickets, Dhoni said, will suit the batsmen in the World Twenty20 keeping in mind of the spectators interest. "Normally in a tournament like this you will get flatter wickets to have more entertaining games for spectators. The pattern in these tournaments is generally more in favour of
the batsmen," he said.
Speaking about the criticism he has been facing, Dhoni reiterated that had the team lost the Asia Cup, it would have been a bigger headline than their triumph on Sunday.
"I'm not here to give answers to anyone. As I said earlier, India losing the Asia Cup final is a bigger headline than winning it. People will keep talking about a lot of stuff.
"But it's important to know the responsibility you have in the team. They will always criticise but from a player's side it's important to know what the team needs. You don't always have to look good."