x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Dhoni dismisses expectations to look at small things on England tour

"Every series is as important as any other one. It is important we stick to the basics because that is what we have been doing for the past two and a half years".

The India coach Duncan Fletcher, right, chats with captain MS Dhoni during a net session in Taunton, England.
The India coach Duncan Fletcher, right, chats with captain MS Dhoni during a net session in Taunton, England.

TAUNTON, ENGLAND // Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India captain, has encouraged his players to forget the fact their status as the world's No 1 Test side will be on the line against England this summer, and to enjoy their cricket instead.

Three days after landing at Heathrow direct from their successful tour of the West Indies, India will begin their tour of the UK today with a three-day, warm-up match against Somerset.

England can assume India's place at the top of the rankings if they win the ensuing four-Test series by two clear matches, but Dhoni is unconcerned.

"Rankings are not what are important to us," Dhoni, who has led India to world titles in the 50 over and Twenty20 formats, as well as the top of the five-day standings, said.

"What is important is that we enjoy the cricket and enjoy our sport because often what happens when you play at the top level is that you don't enjoy your sport.

"We will look to do the small things right and the ratings will take care of themselves."

Dhoni's side have barely stopped for breath since he hit the winning six to seal their World Cup win on home soil in April. They headed to the Caribbean soon after, for a relatively low-key series which they won without the need to call on a variety of their senior players.

The intensity has clearly been magnified on their arrival in England, with a variety of influential senior players such as Zaheer Khan and Sachin Tendulkar now rejoining the fold.

"When we are representing 1.2 billion people the expectations are always there and every series is important," Dhoni said.

"Every series is as important as any other one. It is important we stick to the basics because that is what we have been doing for the past two and a half years.

"We can't think too much about the opposition, but England are a very good side who have very good bowlers. We have to be at our best and do the small things right."

The series may hold great significance in the upper echelons of international cricket, but the start still feels somewhat low-profile in the English West Country.

Dhoni was thankful that the sun came out yesterday, but that the stifling heat of the West Indies had been swapped for far cooler temperatures.

The opening fixture of the tour carries with it the subplot of Andrew Strauss, the England captain, taking urgent measures to find form with the bat.

Strauss has joined Somerset on a one-match loan, rather than playing a second team match for his county, Middlesex, just in order to face the Indians.

That brings with it the prospect of him facing Zaheer, and thus attempting to counter his perceived fallibility against left-arm pace-bowling.

"The problem really lies with Straussy," Duncan Fletcher, who gave Strauss his debut while coaching England, but who is now in charge of India, said.

"If he feels he has got a problem with it, it is more of a problem for him than it is for us at this stage. "If he gets out early, there is a chance we will have something over him. If he does get runs, you are allowed to get runs at some stage, but it is a matter of judging you over four Test matches which will be important."

Strauss, who will not reprise his alliance with his former England opening partner, Marcus Trescothick, as the Somerset captain is sitting out this game, said any game-time will be gratefully appreciated.

He also attempted to play down the fact his side are bidding to leapfrog India at the top of the standings. "The rankings are one thing but we are looking for something more sustained than that," he said.

"Us even thinking about winning by two clear games at this stage would be unhelpful. The level of the test increases over the next five weeks and that excites us."