Dhoni's double worry: Pressure and Pakistan

Colombo: A little after the Indian players were done with an hour-long session of showcasing their football skills, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virender Sehwag and Virat Kohli were closeted in a discussion next to one of the nets. For the next 40 minutes or so, they seemed oblivious to the events around them.

As the rest took their turns to bat, the relaxed trio opted to have an off day. If Dhoni and Kohli could be excused for skipping nets, having played a match on Friday, Sehwag's inexplicable ways were hard to fathom.

Their conclave, though, attracted more attention than Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan's lusty hitting.

One of those tedious clay court baseline rallies that the 'Sehwag dropping' episode had started to represent seems to have ended for the time being with the defeat to Australia. India are likely to be back to their tried and tested formula of four bowlers and seven batsmen.

If Pakistan were enterprising in their victory on Friday, suddenly India are the ones embodying Gary Player's dictum about luck and practice.

How else would you explain the presence of all the players on a day of optional practice at the Colts Cricket Club ground, that too, less than 24 hours after playing a match. It is because India's preparations contain an element of wing and a prayer.

However hard Dhoni may try to justify Sehwag's omission with the "horses-for-courses" policy, the fact remains that the opener's presence does have a psychological impact on the opposition. If he can set the early pace to the innings, there is always less pressure on the middle-order.

Moreover, the Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir partnership can work wonders in a high-voltage India-Pakistan clash where a loss could certainly mean an exit from the World T20. Then there is the negative run-rate, that also needs to be dealt with.

Sehwag's inclusion will mean Piyush Chawla will have to sit out. The leg-spinner, who was accommodated through Sehwag's omission, went for 14 runs in one over against Australia.

Dhoni is hoping the players don't get too bothered about the result and are bold enough to express themselves in the right manner.

"The team has got the potential. But we will have to implement it on the field. The performance needs to reflect on the field and that is something that is very important," he said.

"Also, what is important is that we go to the field and express ourselves… Let's play some big shots and go in with a lot of confidence. Whatever the outcome, let's not fear about the results…"

If India are feeling the heat, Pakistan can afford to breathe slightly easy. That Mohammed Hafeez's side had won the warm-up tie here will mean little on Sunday.

The statistics favour India. They have never lost to Pakistan in any 50-over or 20-over World Cup match.

The last time the two teams met in an International was in Dhaka during the Asia Cup. Nasir Jamshed's century was negated by a superlative 183 from Kohli that set up India's victory.

These numbers, however, hardly count much in such games. It will be about guts and temperament, of experience and handling pressure, of showing character and meeting expectations.

Hafeez tried to downplay the pressure bit. "We're not taking extra pressure. The boys have shown the right spirit. We've responded well in pressure situations and want to keep up the good work," the Pakistan captain said.

"We'll be treating it as just another game… It will be about going out there and putting in the effort. There will be high hopes… But the pressure has reduced slightly since we have been meeting quite often these days," Hafeez explained.

Dhoni, too, took a similar line. "Well if you see we are always at the top of the pressure-chain…. Back home, we are expected to win everything. I don't think the pressure will go beyond that limit because it's always been there… So it doesn't really matter to us."

For Dhoni, more than the pressure, it will be about getting the team combination right while hoping that his bowlers don't let him down.

TEAMS

India (likely): Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Ravichandran Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan.

Pakistan (likely): Mohammed Hafeez, Imran Nazir, Nasir Jamshed, Kamran Akmal, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Umar Gul, Yasir Arafat, Saeed Ajmal, Raza Hasan.

Umpires: Rod Tucker and Richard Kettleborough. TV: Kumar Dharmasena

Match Referee: Jeff Crowe

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