x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Dhoni demands more runs from Tendulkar as India take on South Africa

The India captain is content with the steady improvement in group games so far but wants to step up the partnerships, starting with the openers. World Cup news

Dhoni and Tendulkar have a chat and discuss strategy during a break in the practice session.
Dhoni and Tendulkar have a chat and discuss strategy during a break in the practice session.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India captain, said he was looking to openers Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar to fire at the top of the order as the host nation eyes the quarter-finals.

"If our openers can bat as long as possible, it will be good for us because from what we have seen, if Sachin and Sehwag get going it is difficult to stop them," Dhoni said on the eve of his Group B match against South Africa.

"I am just hoping that in coming games we have slightly bigger partnerships so that the middle and the lower middle order can use the explosive power well.

"We rely on momentum and if we get a good start, our lower order can really cash in on the platform that is provided to us."

The explosive Sehwag and Tendulkar are capable of dominating any attack but their highest stand in the World Cup so far has been 69.

When asked whether India would be wary of South African paceman Dale Steyn in Saturday's clash in Nagpur, the Indian skipper said: "Not only Steyn. All of them are talented and can get batsmen out and you have to be at your best."

Steyn destroyed India with a 10-wicket match haul in the opening Test in Nagpur last year, helping his team notch an innings victory.

Dhoni said the intensity would pick up as the tournament progressed and he wanted to gain momentum in the run-up to the last-eight fixtures.

"Slowly the intensity will go up and you have to go on improving," he said.

Dhoni said his team were well-prepared for the upcoming matches against South Africa and the West Indies after three wins and a tie against England in their four matches so far.

"The first four games were really good as far as getting into the groove and getting into the next leg of the tournament is concerned. We have seen signs of improvement and we should be improving a lot," said Dhoni.

"In the last four games we had a tie, two good run chases. We have batted first and chased and played on good batting and slower tracks, so we have a fair bit of exposure about what we may get in coming days."

Dhoni said India had not decided whether to go with an extra fast bowler against South Africa.

"It (playing an extra paceman) will be a thought. From what we have seen, this is one of the better tracks in the country," he said.

"I mean there is a little more bounce and what we have seen is not extraordinary speed or seam movement for the seamers, but only a little extra bounce.

"We will have a look and see whether it (the wicket) is dry or not and then decide on the team combination."

No regrets for Olonga

It is eight years and two World Cups back since Zimbabwe's Henry Olonga made his famous black armband protest against Robert Mugabe's political regime. He remains proud to have made a stand even though it cost him his career and home. "There are no regrets," Olonga said over the phone from Birmingham, where is settled now with wife Tara and a two-month-old daughter.

"It was something that changed my life and taught me a lot about myself and my country. I am incredibly lucky to have done it with a man of the calibre of Andy Flower, who is a fantastic human being."

Olonga, 34, is aware his actions along with then teammate and current England team director Flower, when they wore black armbands to mourn "the death of democracy" in their homeland at a World Cup match in South Africa, will dominate his legacy much more than any wickets he claimed as a fast bowler.

"I look back on that day with a sense of fulfilment. I did something more important than just looking after myself. I represented people who didn't have a voice. So when I look in the mirror I know I stood up for something I truly believed in."

Nowadays, Olonga is a singer, public speaker, photographer, art worker, author and occasional cricketer but rarely sees Flower while both are in England.

Injury scare for the younger Akmal

Pakistan batsman Umar Akmal has suffered an injury to his right index finger in a training session and was rested on Friday for team practice ahead of their match with Zimbabwe.

Akmal was rested while the rest of his team mates were practising in a simulated match.  "There is no swelling at all. He is perfectly all right," team manager Intikhab Alam said. "We just want to make sure that everything is okay, that's why I sent him to get an X-ray and scan also. It's cleared and he is okay."

Meanwhile Misbah-ul-Haq has come out in support of the senior Akmal, Kamran, after voices to drop him and have Umar keep wickets increased following two drop catches by Kamran that were instrumental in the defeat to New Zealand. "I think everyone should support him. He had three good matches but dropped two against New Zealand, so he is trying hard now and we are confident that he will make a good comeback," said Misbah.

Dhoni may opt for Chawla again over Ashwin

The Indian captain has kept faith with the baby-faced Chawla as the second specialist spinner behind Harbhajan Singh despite the leg spinner failing to do anything much to justify such a preference.

The 22-year-old, who returned to the Indian ODI squad after a gap of 30 months against South Africa in January, has managed just four wickets while leaking runs in the World Cup. Critics have, in particular, been calling for lanky off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin to replace him against Graeme Smith's men but he has yet to appear in any World Cup match.

Although Dhoni said he appreciated Ashwin's mental strength from whatever little he had seen of him, but indicated that Chawla might get the vote. "What you need to assess is who needs the games more. Piyush Chawla is 22-23 years of age... needs to get his confidence back," Dhoni said.

Dilshan ignores misleading reports on his dope test

Sri Lanka's record-setting batsman Tillakaratne Dilshan insisted he is the victim of a smear campaign after he was wrongly accused of having failed a dope test.

The 34-year-old said it was not the first time he had suffered from such allegations and that he was not even selected for a random test after last weekend's rain-ruined match against Australia in Colombo. "On Wednesday, there were reports that I had failed a dope test," Dilshan said.

"It is not the first time these kind of allegations have surfaced - they have done so after every recent tournament I have played in. I feel like there is an attempt to distract my game but I am not worried. I try to ignore the reports and concentrate on my game instead.