India start World Cup rehearsal with tri-series encounter against Australia
Melbourne, Jan 17 - Aiming to boost their World Cup preparations, India start their One-Day International (ODI) tri-series campaign against hosts Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) here on Sunday.
More than the result, the tri-series, which also involves England, offers the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led team the chance to try out different combinations as well as settle down as a unit.
Playing in Australia just prior to the World Cup would give the reigning champions some much-needed time to acclimatise to the conditions.
"In this series, the most important thing for us will be to get the combination right for the World Cup," Dhoni said ahead of their first match.
"At the same time we will ensure that we don't push the players who have minor niggles so they don't end up being major injuries. We will give them the extra time because we want every player to be at least 80 to 90 percent fit going into a game."
Dhoni also wants his pacers to practice their yorkers ahead of the World Cup where their death bowling will surely be tested.
"The execution of yorkers and bouncers becomes very crucial and that's what we have been working on in the last few days. The bowlers are doing pretty well with the yorkers and if they can replicate in the match, we will be very happy with it," Dhoni said.
Having lost the Test series, which also saw skipper Dhoni's retirement from the longest version of the game, 0-2, India will look to get some much-needed confidence under their belt. However, the team has been doing well in ODIs recently, even in foreign conditions, and it will hope to continue the trend in the coming months.
India's record in ICC tournaments in the last four years has been remarkable. They won the Champions Trophy in England in 2013 and were runners-up in the last World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka.
While Dhoni is quietly confident of his team's ability to win big, he is not getting carried away.
"We have done well in the last two ICC tournaments and both of them were away, in Sri Lanka and England," he said.
"But the conditions in Australia and New Zealand are quite different. You also have to keep in mind the form of the players and the little niggles that some of them are carrying. But yes, we will take a lot of confidence out of our last few performances in the ICC tournaments."
In the recently-concluded Test series, only Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane managed to enhance their reputations as batsmen and India will continue to rely on the duo along with ODI talisman Dhoni.
Pressure will be high on the likes of bungling batsmen Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina, not to forget the bowlers.
Pacer Ishant Sharma (left knee) and left-handed all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja (left shoulder) have been ruled out of the opening game.
"There are quite a few players with a bit of niggle here and there and we are monitoring their progress. In tomorrow's game, Ishant and Jadeja are not available for selection because we are managing their workload."
Pacers Mohit Sharma and Dhawal Kulkarni will also look to impress the team management in the limited opportunities they will get here.
Fresh from a Test series victory, notable for simmering tensions that occasionally boiled over into heated on-field exchanges, Australia will again look to gain a psychological advantage ahead of next month's World Cup.
Australia on Friday produced a clinical performance in the first match of the tri-series to get the better of traditional rivals England by three wickets.