Of late, no cricketer has divided opinions more than MS Dhoni. Some feel he's a spent force, some feel he's still a force to reckon with. His approach has been questioned time and again and so has his mindset. But he seems to have silenced his critics in style with impressive performances in the Indian Premier League. He's been one of the best wicketkeepers around, a guiding light for Kohli, a game changer and has found momentum with the bat in standout performances at the IPL. And heading into the World Cup, India coach Ravi Shastri feels that Dhoni's impact will be massive.
"You do not need to tell him anything, he's someone who'll be right there, doing exactly what he does," Shastri said in the pre-departure press conference when asked about Dhoni's role in the mega event.
"His communication with Virat has been fantastic. You know, as a keeper he's shown over the years that there's no one better than him in this format of the game. Not just when it comes to taking catches but inflicting those run-outs, those stumpings. Those little moments in the game that can change the game on its head. There's no one better than him and what was great to see was the way he was moving in the IPL, especially when he was batting. The footwork, the power with which he was hitting his shots. He will be a big player in this World Cup," said Shastri.
The World Cup is a big stage. A challenging format where 10 strong teams lock horns against each other to grab hold of the coveted trophy. It's natural that the pressure will be huge. While captain Kohli stressed on the importance of handling pressure and maintaining intensity, Shastri believed that the team enjoying themselves would also be key.
"As far as this tournament is concerned, it's an opportunity," Shastri explained.
"If you look at this team, what they have done over those (last) five years, they know they have played brilliant cricket. And as Virat said, it's about striving for that consistency. And not playing any differently just because it's a World Cup. World Cup might be a stage but that stage needs to be enjoyed. The most important thing is to get out there and enjoy the World Cup. If you play to potential, the cup might be here."
With every team playing against every team in the group stage with top four making it to the semis in a redux of 1992 format, Shastri feels that it's going to be a very challenging tournament.
"Like Virat mentioned, any team can beat any team on a given day," The Indian coach said. "If you look at 2014 and 2019 now, the gap is much closer between teams. You see what Afghanistan was in 2015 and see where they are now. See what Bangladesh was and what they are now. So, it's a strong competition. West Indies, if you look at that side on paper, they're as strong as any other team. We saw some of them in the IPL, the way they hit the ball. So, it's going to be fantastic. The good thing though is there are those nine games, rather than just three or four games where you have to be on the ball from the outset."
Things have changed drastically from the past. England is not the place it used to be. 300 plus totals have been scored and chased down with ease. It was on display in the recently concluded England vs Pakistan series where seven totals of 340-plus were amassed, two of them comfortably chased down (by England) and one nearly chased down by Pakistan. However, amidst the carnage, Shastri is confident that India's bowlers will be able to defend totals on the flat English wickets.
"I would think so because if you look at it, there are no new bowlers there," Shastri said. "This is an experienced unit. These guys have been together for the last four to five years and they have bowed as a unit together. We have accomplished what we set out to do in Test match cricket when it came to bowling as a unit and the endeavor will be the same here in the World Cup. Each one complements each other and keeps the right pressure all through."
The dynamics of the batting have changed over the last few years. The teams now look to accelerate in the middle overs as well. Asked what approach would the team look to take in the middle overs, Shastri said that the conditions will dictate their approach.
"Our mantra will be to be flexible and be flexible according to the conditions because the pitches might be flat in England but if the overcast conditions change then you've got to be up with it," Shastri explained. "Any other country in the world, overhead conditions don't matter that much but in England they do. And it differs from venue to venue. In London, it might not make a lot of difference, but if you go up north and it gets overcast, you will see things happening. So you have to be ready for that, prepare for that and be flexible."
Shastri also asserted that there will be no special preparations for the clash against arch-rivals Pakistan.
"In a World Cup, you can't think about one team. Like Virat said, from the first ball there has to be the intensity. No matter which team. If that kind of intensity is there, it will remain in every game so it doesn't really matter who the opposition is."
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