The Indian team’s last public appearance before they leave for Bangladesh to begin their World Cup campaign will happen in style. Tickets for Wednesday’s practice match against New Zealand here have been sold out. There will be some 40,000 pairs of eyes to see how prepared MS Dhoni’s team is for what is being called The Cup that Counts.Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh skipped Tuesday’s optional training session while the rest worked hard under the uncomfortable sun. Their last chance to put that into practice comes against a team which they thrashed 5-0 in last year’s ODI series. Going strictly by record, this shouldn’t be too tough an outing. "Our mental preparation for the warm-up game against Australia (on Sunday) wasn't perfect, so we couldn’t give our 100%. But it being the last practice match tomorrow, intensity will be high. We need to up a few things in this game," said Dhoni.
Talking about what exactly these practice games provide, the skipper said: “The heart rate goes up. You want to score runs and try out all variations. At the nets, you don’t know what an outside edge results in. In these games you get to see whether it runs down to the fence or otherwise.”
And then, India have a few things to check. With Dhoni saying Sachin Tendulkar will return for this game and Virender Sehwag spending a long time at the nets with Gautam Gambhir, this game is expected to provide the first glimpse of what exactly India’s batting order would be, at least in the first few matches of the tournament.
This match will also give these three batsmen a chance to play a 50-over game, something they did only in patches over the last year.
One can spend hours at the nets, but to see how fruitful that was, there has to be a reality check. In a simulated match situation, this trio will get a chance to do that.
Giving this match a different dimension is the presence of New Zealand coach John Wright, whose eventful five-year tenure with the Indian team saw the emergence of new India, a team which started believing it could beat the best. Wright was emotional while recalling his days with them.
“We started a process which was driven further by the senior guys after I left. It’s satisfying to see that there are some benefactors of that process in this lot. I would be delighted to meet India in a non-practice game later in the tournament. Home fans will be an advantage for them as long as they do well, but if they don’t, it might become a different factor.”
Past, present and future, there are several hues associated with this game. It might be just a practice game for some. For others, it’s more than that.