NEW DELHI, (Reuters – Apart from motorcycles, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s obsession is firearms and the India captain would be thoroughly justified in believing he has enough ammunition to foil any bid to topple his team from the top of the test rankings.
Minutes after sealing India’s 50-over World Cup victory with a six in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, a drained Dhoni was already discussing how to sustain the dominance of the team who have been the number one test side since December 2009.
The biggest hurdle since that crazy, humid April night await them in England in the form of a four-test series starting at Lord’s on Thursday, to be followed by five one-day internationals with a Twenty20 match thrown in.
Dhoni would like to believe that he has ticked most of the boxes.
Sachin Tendulkar is not just back in the squad but he made it a point to reach England early to get accustomed to the conditions, dropping in briefly at Wimbledon to watch Roger Federer.
Such meticulous preparation for someone who has spent 22 years in international cricket does not surprise former India captain Sunil Gavaskar.
“I’m not surprised he’s out there trying to acclimatise and get some practice…also having had a word with Roger Federer, be prepared for the pull shot past mid-on,” Gavaskar said.
Tendulkar’s demanding fans will be expecting more than few nice shots.
At the age of 38, Tendulkar is unlikely to return to England and he has yet to score a century at Lord’s, venue of the firset test starting on Thursday. If he does reach his century he will the first person to score 100 international centuries.
Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid (38) and VVS Laxman (36) share 99 centuries and 35,000 runs in tests and Gavaskar said they would do anything to make their final England tour memorable.
Yuvraj Singh is also not short of motivation.
The architect of India’s Twenty20 (2007) and 50 overs (2011) World Cups remains a fringe test player, even after 11 years of international cricket, and this would be one of his few remaining opportunities to cement his place or else watch someone like Suresh Raina slam the door on his face.
“In terms of one-day cricket everything has been good for me but in terms of test cricket I suppose the graph reads a bit up and down,” Yuvraj said before leaving for England.
“Cricket is my game though and I am going to give this test series my level best. I will give my 100 percent,”
Dhoni was criticised for not pressing for a victory in the Dominica test again West Indies where India needed 86 runs from the final 15 overs with seven wickets in hand. He decided instead to settle for a draw and a 1-0 victory in the three-match test series against a West Indian side ranked six places lower.
There, were, however some other positives, including Ishant Sharma’s return to form.
The lanky right-arm pace bowler struck his rhythm and claimed 22 wickets in three tests to signal he has put a bad patch behind him and is ready to share the new ball attack with Zaheer Khan.
Dhoni would also hope to benefit from the battles within the battle.
For instance, Yuvraj has already announced that he was looking forward to renewing his rivalry with Kevin Pietersen who famously called the southpaw a “pie-chucker” and dubbed his brand of spin as “left-arm filth” in 2008.
Being the character he is, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh can also be trusted to give everything in his duel with English counterpart Graeme Swann.
Dhoni will also have access to the insider knowledge of coach Duncan Fletcher.
The eight years he spent coaching the England team gave Fletcher first hand knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of the players who form the core of the current squad.
Dhoni’s only worry seems to be the absence of opener Virender Sehwag, who is recovering from a shoulder surgery and is set to miss the first two tests.
“We, as a side, rely on our openers quite a bit. A good start helps our middle-order capitalise on it. As far as Virender Sehwag is concerned, there aren’t many cricketers in the world who can have the impact he can,” Dhoni conceded.
In Sehwag’s absence, Abhinav Mukund, who made his test debut in West Indies last month, would open the innings with Gautam Gambhir.
Gambhir, himself, is back in action after missing the West Indies tour with a shoulder injury and the onus would be on the left-handed pair to see off the new ball and lay the foundation before the seniors take charge.