India urged to keep focus in Champions Trophy semi-finals
Team captain believes his side can go all theway after reaching semis with perfect record
Agence France-Presse in Birmingham
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni told his match-winning young team to remain focused as they approached the business end of the Champions Trophy.
The reigning World Cup champions have enjoyed a remarkable campaign in the eight-nation tournament so far, becoming the only team to enter the semi-finals with an all-win record. But Dhoni knows all the good work will mean nothing if his team slips up in Thursday's second semi-final in Cardiff.
"There are, hopefully, still two more matches to go and we must play with the same intensity that we have shown so far," he said.
It has been a formidable display by the tournament's youngest team, in which Dhoni is the oldest member at 31 and reserve spinner Amit Mishra is the only other player aged over 29.
Former test batsman Sandeep Patil's selection panel has been so ruthless in axing non-performers that the current squad has only three players - Dhoni, Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli - who played in the World Cup final two years ago.
Dhoni says the induction of young blood has made his team the "top fielding side in world cricket", a praise rarely associated with Indian sides in the past.
The build-up to the tournament was overshadowed by a spot-fixing scandal in the Indian Premier League that led to the arrest of three players, including test fast bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth. At least two IPL franchise owners were being investigated for betting and cricket board president Narayanswamy Srinivasan was forced to step aside over his son-in-law's links to illegal bookmakers.
Dhoni was facing a conflict-of-interest issue after it was revealed that he had a stake in a management company that represented several national players like Raina and Ravindra Jadeja. But the young side rallied around their unflappable captain to put on a winning performance.
"This is the team of the future," India's former World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev said. "They are playing fearless cricket. Easily the best side in the tournament so far."
Starting the Champions Trophy as rank outsiders despite being the top-ranked one-day side, India began with a 26-run win over South Africa in Cardiff, before routing the West Indies by eight wickets. Then on Saturday, they registered their first success over arch-rivals Pakistan in the Champions Trophy, winning a rain-marred encounter at Edgbaston by eight wickets.
Hard-hitting opener Shikhar Dhawan, who anchored India's power-packed batting display with two centuries and a 48, is the tournament's leading scorer with 264 runs. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja is the top wicket-taker on nine, with good support from seam bowlers Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav.
Kumar, whose 2-19 from eight overs against Pakistan earned him the man-of-the-match award, credited his success to backing from Dhoni and the team management. "He is a calm captain which really helps you prepare for a game," Kumar said. "He tells us to forget previous games and focus on the next one. He takes the pressure off."