India's cricketers, already overburdened with a surfeit of international cricket and taxed further through the Indian Premier League, come into their limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka after a rare prolonged break.
For a majority of the 15-man squad, the last competitive game was in late May,Â the final of IPL V was played out on May 27. A few did travel with the India A team to the West Indies, but the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Sharma, Ashok Dinda and Manoj Tiwary haven't played too much international cricket in any case.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni acknowledged that the break had done his team a world of good, both physically and mentally. "Before the start of the series, everybody is looking fresh," said Dhoni. "Everyone is putting in a lot of effort, you see a lot more guys going to the gym. There is more energy within the group, which might otherwise not be the case during a season of continuous cricket. As I see it, this increased energy and freshness, it's definitely a big plus for us."
"The break was a much needed one," said Dhoni. "It's the first long break we have had in the last six-seven years. We have a busy schedule over the next year. We will be playing a lot of Test matches,Â that is quite tough, you play on for five days in a row and we are playing 10 Tests. This rest has ensured that mentally we are fresh and physically, we got time to work on our fitness levels."
Dhoni was asked if Zaheer Khan, India's bowling spearhead, will need to be preserved with the long season in mind. "It is important," admitted Dhoni, "but I don't think we need to think about it from the very first game. We need to also get him match-fit. What we have seen in the past is that the more games Zaheer plays, the better he gets. Of course, if the situation does arise, we would like to give him a break occasionally."
India haven't played at the Mahinda Rakapaksa International Cricket Stadium in Hambantota before. "We need to get used to the conditions," said Dhoni. "We had a practice session yesterday afternoon, when it was quite windy. The strong winds can be factor; not only the bowlers, but the batsmen and the fielders also need to get used to the conditions. It's good we are practising under lights today, so we will get to know to what to expect in the second innings."
Hinting at a game on Saturday for Irfan Pathan, Dhoni said, "He gives us the liberty of playing with five specialist bowlers. We can play two spinners and three seamers because Irfan can also bat. We don't have a real part-timer like Yuvraj or Jadeja, who could have given us seven or eight overs between them. If we play with four bowlers, it's a Catch-22 situation because Viru (Sehwag), Rohit (Sharma) and (Suresh) Raina will have to bowl ten overs between them. Things could become a bit difficult because Sri Lanka are a very experienced side and they will target the fifth bowler's quota of overs."