Dhoni determined to extend India’s dominance

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.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni

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.

         FRINGE PLAYER   

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.

       INSIDER KNOWLEDGE     

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.

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