Colombo: For Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Zaheer Khan is the Sachin Tendulkar of the Indian bowling attack.
Speaking at the pre-match media conference, on Saturday, Dhoni was all praise for the off-form speedster who has been criticised widely. According to the India captain, Zaheer deserves a few more chances and the team can afford to give him that.
The following are excerpts
If he intends bringing a change in the bowling line-up for Sunday’s game
It may happen in this game (against England)… But we should not forget the Pakistan game (the warm-up tie)… Playing with 12 players, which meant we had five specialist bowlers, we saw how we performed. In the first warm-up game, it was the seventh batsman who scored runs… Rohit batted really well for us and scored runs. You know it is a difficult decision to make but we will see how it goes in the coming games and then we will be in a better position to decide in the next stage whether we need to play with five bowlers or we can manage with four. There will be changes in the playing XI, but that will not be experimentation.
On Zaheer’s performance and the criticism
We should give him (Zaheer) equal respect, like we give to Sachin, because he’s the Sachin for us when it comes to the bowling department... He has been our best bowler, whatever the format may be...
Whether his faith in Zaheer is unshakable
It depends on the tournament... And also you have to see the combination… If you are playing with four bowlers and a part-timer and you know one bowler can have an off-day. If that ‘one’ becomes ‘two’ then there is considerable amount of pressure as to how you manage the resources. I am hoping that the experienced cricketer he is, he gets back and really works for us.
We are looking at making a few changes in the playing XI so that most of the 15 players we have, have at least one game before the knockout stages. That will really help us and we would like to give some game-time to the batsmen and the bowlers so that when we are looking at playing the fifth bowler then we will know who suits the conditions.
If pitches in Lanka, which are bouncy, are helping the pace bowlers
Our fast bowlers don’t generate a lot of bounce… They are more into swing bowling. We are concentrating on our strengths. The only thing is you will have to execute your plans properly.
On Virender Sehwag’s fitness
Today (Saturday) was an optional session… So the guys who were missing — I think Zak, Ashwin, Sehwag — all are fit. Of course, Viru got hit on Friday, but I think he is fit.
Whether the captain is under pressure when the seniors fail to perform
It does put a bit of pressure… You know, all of them are match-winners, who can, on their day, take the game away. So you would like to give them a long rope… So that in the knock-out stages, they really do well and win a few games for us.
If he intends to come up the batting order
Well what we need to see is which batsman suits the slot. Somebody like a Suresh Raina can play his shots right at the beginning, and there are others like a Virat, who needs to get in, play a few deliveries, get a good platform and then go after the bowlers… The same is the case with Yuvraj. He needs a few deliveries and then he can go after the bowlers. Once he is in that kind of a mood, he can really be an asset to the team. That’s one of the reasons why he needs to bat up at No.4… But we have told the team that nobody is allotted a slot and according to the demands of the match, there might be changes.
On England’s thumping show against the Afghans
It was a good performance by England… But we need to worry about the things that we need to do and not about the things that the other sides are doing. There are quite a few areas we need to improve in and we need to focus on them.
On playing against England after the match against lower-ranked Afghanistan
When you play the lower-ranked side, you want to be at your best and people expect you to win that game… If something bad happens, then you are under tremendous pressure. It’s good that the Afghanistan game is out of the way and all the teams that we play from now on will be strong sides who are doing really well.
Whether Pietersen’s absence will be a factor
Pietersen is one of the players who plays well in all the formats… Be it Tests, ODIs or T20s... If Pietersen was a part of the England team, then it would have been a slightly tougher side. Actually, the (England) team got announced a long time back and so we didn’t have to plan for him.
Significance of carrying the winning momentum to the Super Eights stage
Well, we are at the right kind of momentum… This is what is expected of you because when you playing in a big tournament like the World Cup, you will play the better teams once you get into the knock-out stage.