x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Strauss out to spoil party for World Cup hosts India

Dhoni relaxed ahead of big match even as the focus turns to the pitch where England take on India in an eagerly awaited clash.

England captain Strauss admits it is a huge game but his counterpart Dhoni says business as usual.
England captain Strauss admits it is a huge game but his counterpart Dhoni says business as usual.

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BANGALORE // Andrew Strauss said he would love nothing more than to "spoil an Indian party here in Bangalore", while MS Dhoni reckoned that the pressure on the home team was no different heading into this game.

The World Cup clash today between England and India has been the most eagerly anticipated of the first-round games. The build-up has been intense, including highly publicised clashes between police and fans who were frustrated by the scarcity of tickets available to the public.

Javagal Srinath, a former Indian player who is now an administrator, said that even if the 40,000 capacity at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore had been tripled it would not have been enough to accommodate the demand for India's first home game.

"It's going to be a huge atmosphere," said Strauss, the England captain. "It's one of those games that everyone dreams of playing, against India at the World Cup on their home turf."

Dhoni, the India captain, said his squad has prepared for the match as they would for any encounter.

"For us, each and every game is important," he said. "We prepare likewise for every game - Bangladesh, England, Australia, Ireland. It's an important game, but the preparation remains the same."

He also said that India's players would not be distracted by the attention given to the game. "One thing about the Indian cricket team, I have never played a series when we're not under pressure, whether it is the pressure of winning the game or of playing against a strong opponent," he said.

"Most of the guys are used to it, especially since the IPL when you're playing for the franchise and under pressure to win games and qualify for the next stage."

A defeat for either side will not end their World Cup hopes, but there is a strong incentive to finish at the top of Group B. Given a choice between a possible quarter-final against New Zealand or a tougher test against Australia, Sri Lanka or Pakistan, it is clear what these two teams would prefer.

Though they have won three matches apiece in World Cup encounters, India have dominated against England when playing at home.

England's past two one-day series in India resulted in 1-5 and 0-5 defeats, and their last win of any consequence on Indian soil came nearly a decade ago, when the now-retired Andrew Flintoff had his shirtless celebration at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

It is hard to predict how the Bangalore pitch will play today. The torrential rains that lashed the city on Friday morning stayed away yesterday, but neither team were prepared to finalise an XI with more cloudy weather expected.

When South Africa defeated Australia in a World Cup warm-up, it was low and slow. But a few days earlier, there had been dramatic turn as India defended a low score against Australia, with Piyush Chawla taking four wickets.

After Sreesanth's wayward bowling in the opening match against Bangladesh, Chawla will certainly be in contention for a place. And after playing just the one spinner, Graeme Swann, against the Netherlands, England too could strengthen their slow-bowling component with Michael Yardy coming in.

James Anderson went wicketless in Nagpur, but if conditions are overcast, he remains England's trump card against a top order that has no equal in the game. Unlike the red ball that he has mastered, though, Anderson is noticeably less proficient with the white one, especially once it gets scuffed up on abrasive Indian pitches.

England have no option but to start well.

Virender Sehwag is a more patient man these days, and the manner in which he and Virat Kohli savaged Bangladesh showed just how slim the margin for error is. In Sehwag's case, even the good balls can go for four.