Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s India will be keen to maintain their consistency to fulfill their fans’ expectations at the Champions Trophy starting in South Africa next week.
India disappointed in the tournament’s last edition at home in 2006 when they failed to qualify for the semi-finals, but have given their fans plenty to cheer about with their recent successes.
They won five successive bilateral one-day series — twice against Sri Lanka and once each against England, the West Indies and New Zealand — and saw off Sri Lanka again in a Tri-nations series which finished on Monday.
“We have set our goals and one of them is to be the best team in the world,” said India coach Gary Kirsten.
“We are headed that way and are very excited. We know we have to perform well as we continue the quest to be the best. We take pride in our consistency and we’d like to continue that.”
India will be without explosive opener Virender Sehwag and key paceman Zaheer Khan, but Kirsten said the team still had the resources to give a good account of themselves in South Africa.
“Missing a player like Sehwag is huge because he is a quality batsman. But we’ve got a lot of depth in our cricket at the moment. We’ve got a good batting line-up which is flexible,” said Kirsten.
The Indian batting looks formidable despite Sehwag’s absence as Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni are all capable of playing match-winning roles with their exciting stroke-making.
The spotlight will be on middle-order batsman Rahul Dravid, who has just returned to the one-side after nearly two years. He is known for building an innings under pressure, having already scored more than 10,000 one-day runs.
“It’s good to have him (Dravid) back. He is a very experienced player and adds massive value to the team,” said the Indian coach.
Gautam Gambhir keeps alive India’s chances of making a brisk start as he has been in a fine touch. He is likely to open the innings with Tendulkar, the world’s leading scorer in both Tests and one-dayers.
Tendulkar, playing international cricket for nearly two decades, will again be the key for his ability to play according to the situation and inspire confidence in others.
India also have the bowlers to keep pressure on the opposition, with left-arm seamer Ashish Nehra in the middle of an excellent run since returing to international cricket this year.
Nehra, who impressed in the West Indies and Sri Lanka in recent series, and fellow-pacemen Ishant Sharma and Rudra Pratap Singh are all capable of providing early breakthroughs, which are essential to seize the advantage.
India have a specialist spinner in Harbhajan Singh who can keep the batsmen under check with his tidy off-spin. Part-time spinners Yuvraj, Suresh Raina and Yusuf Pathan cannot be ignored as they have been doing a commendable job.
India straightaway step into a high-pressure situation in South Africa when they clash with arch-rivals Pakistan in their opening match, hoping their consistency will see them through.