MS Dhoni is in a prickly mood ahead of the quarter-final showdown, defending his team against short-pitch bowling, the media and the rivalry with Australia.
Dhoni banks on cheers of 40,000 Indian fans against Australia
AHMEDABAD // You can depend on MS Dhoni to defuse tension ahead of a big occasion.
With Ricky Ponting having spoken of the need for the "Australian way", Dhoni was asked how his team would respond in the World Cup quarter-final tomorrow. "We need to play the Indian way," he said. "Normal cricket."
India's hopes of doing that rest largely on whether or not Virender Sehwag passes a fitness test on his knee. If he does, either Suresh Raina or Yusuf Pathan will miss out. Sehwag's presence or absence will impact on the strategy employed by both teams.
"It's really good to have him opening because deliveries will be short and to the body," Dhoni said.
"If you are slightly wrong with it, he's the kind of batsman who can make the most of it. He plays aggressively and can change the course of a game in the first five overs."
In a bizarre press conference punctuated by questions about an alleged cold war between the team and the Indian media — "The less exposure, the less the controversy. So it [interaction] is best kept to the minimum" — Dhoni spoke candidly about the pressure his side has to deal with.
"If you're part of the Indian team, irrespective of whether a batsman or bowler, you're under pressure," he said.
"The expectation levels are not set by the individual, but by others. More than the batsmen, it's the bowlers. They have to defend totals."
When it was suggested that India were hamstrung by playing at home, Dhoni disagreed.
"It's a big advantage to have 40,000 cheering for you," he said. "When you're under pressure, it makes a difference. It helps to have that home support."
Much of the Australian talk in the build-up to the game has been of targeting India with the short ball. Dhoni was sanguine in his response.
"Last time we toured Australia, we won in Perth," he said. "We recently won in Durban. But wherever we are, the shadows of short-pitched bowling can be seen. It's nothing new."
The pitch is expected to be dry and the outfield lush, and India will almost certainly employ the same bowlers who played against the West Indies. Despite his success against Australia in a warm-up, Piyush Chawla is unlikely to dislodge R Ashwin.
Batting concerns remain after late collapses against England (seven for 33), South Africa (nine for 29) and the West Indies (seven for 50).
"Once you lose one or two quick wickets, maybe you need to curb instincts and bat out the 50 overs," Dhoni said.
"We haven't yet been able to capitalise on the slog o vers or the batting power play."
Should India lose, it will be Gary Kirsten's last game in charge.
"The way he has managed the Indian dressing room, superstars with a huge following, has been fantastic," Dhoni said. "He's been a gentleman to work with."
Ponting's plan to view footage of the 2003 final did not impress him much though.
"Half this team didn't play in 2003," he said. "I don't know how relevant that will be."
The rivalry between the two teams is another story.
"The last two or three years, India-Australia series have been among the most viewed," he said. "The players are more intense because they know the whole world is keeping a keen eye on it."
Millions will be watching.