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‘Need to get off to a good start’

Johannesburg: India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni on Wednesday said that “getting used to the pace and bounce” in South African conditions will be the biggest challenge for his young team, which is here to play three ODIs and two Tests.

“One of the big challenges is to get used to the pace and bounce. If you are just new to the international circuit, then it becomes more of a challenge. The reason being, in India even on the best of wickets you don’t get the same pace, or even bowlers who can generate similar pace and bounce.

“So it makes slightly more difficult for the players who have just made their debut in the international arena,” Dhoni told reporters at the pre-match press conference.

He, though, believed that there are some players who have had international experience.

“But at the same time there are a few players (in the side) who have been playing for the last few seasons and have had a decent outing all over the world. When you come to the same venue, you know how the situation or condition will be, and it gives an edge to adapt quickly. At the end of the day, experience always counts.”

Young they may be, but this Indian lot is also very enthusiastic about their cricket. And now, they will be raring to take on the challenge of facing some of the best fast bowlers in world cricket.

The battle then essentially will be between Indian batsmen and South Africa bowlers. How they cope up with the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander will be intriguing to say the least.

“Strategies have always been formed against batsmen. Batsmen form their own strategies to counter bowlers’ plans. The real challenge is how you are able to change your game and adapt as per different conditions. More important than strategies is who scores more runs and takes more wickets,” said Dhoni.

That, again, brings up the topic of the Indian bowling, the same deemed ‘weak’ by his counterpart.

“It is important how you exploit the conditions,” he replied, when pointed out.

“It’s not important if you have the best bowlers. I think we have done pretty well. There have been ups and downs. We have really struggled when there is dew on the field or the wickets are really flat. That’s an area where our bowlers haven’t done outstandingly well,” Dhoni said.

“But if there is help for them, fast bowlers or spinners, they have made use of it and done well. So we are happy with how they have done, quite happy with both ups and downs.”

It is a fact that India go into this ODI rubber as the world’s No.1 side. It is also a fact that they have never won a bilateral series in South Africa, and their record in the ODIs is poor as well.

“It is not about favourites. The poor record wasn’t on my mind, but there have been instances, where we had an opportunity to win the series, but we didn’t cash in on it. So, what is important is how you play cricket on that particular day.

“We have seen that in ODIs, you need to get off to a good start. With the two new-ball rule and especially if conditions favour the fast bowlers, it is important how you play the first ten overs. Having wickets in hand, cashing in on the last 15 overs to get par plus score and then how you defend itů It all depends on how you play and the kind of impact individuals have on that day.”

Although Dhoni admitted that he hadn’t seen the pitch, AB de Villiers had talked about the grass on it. If some of it stays there, even the hosts will be wary of the threat Indian bowlers can pose. Both captains have candidly agreed that saving wickets early on, for an attack in the death overs, is the safest bet.

“Irrespective of where you are playing, wickets in hand always get you good runs in last 8-10 overs. In subcontinents, the wickets slow down and sometimes it is difficult for the new batsmen to come in and play shots. In those circumstances, we have not been able to get par-plus scores.