Dhoni India West Indies
India skipper MS Dhoni is confident his young team can stand up to the South Africa test. BCCI
India skipper MS Dhoni is confident his young team can stand up to the South Africa test. BCCI
India skipper MS Dhoni is confident his young team can stand up to the South Africa test. BCCI

Openers and the vacant No. 4 slot were the major points of discussion during MS Dhoni's pre-South Africa tour press conference, with the India skipper particularly expressing his unhappiness at Gautam Gambhir being overlooked for the crunch series.

India head into a three-match ODI series against South Africa before facing the Proteas in what promises to be two high-voltage Test matches.

The exclusion of Gambhir, despite good domestic form, was one of the major talking points when the selection committee named the team for the SA tour, and clearly Dhoni was not too amused by the experienced left-hander's exclusion.

Asked who he sees as India's third opener after the first-choice duo of Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, Dhoni gave a surprising reply: "Gambhir is our third opener," he said. "You asked who you are looking at as the third opener, I replied. You didn't specify if you were asking about someone in this team."

The other inevitable question was always going to be about who fills the ridiculously large shoes of Sachin Tendulkar at the No.4 position. India embarks on a tour to South Africa for the first time without their greatest ever batsman, who retired after the second Test against the West Indies in Mumbai last month.

"Is it not possible to not look at number four at all? I mean, why not play 1, 2, 3, and then 5, 6, 7? It's not about someone replacing someone else," Dhoni said. "Whoever walks in at number four will bring a fresh character into the side and will progress from there. As of now we have not decided who will bat at No. 4.

"There is hardly any break for us to decide who will bat at No.4. But again, every slot, especially when talking about Test cricket, is an important slot. Overall, we don't know who will be batting at No.4, but there is no replacing the individual."

Dhoni predicted an exciting series against South Africa, with India's youngsters coming up against an experienced home side, especially in the Test matches.

"As far as the India-South Africa series is concerned, both teams are well positioned," the skipper said. "In ODIs we have done well and they have done well in Tests, so I think it will be a good contest. Because the ODIs are before the Tests, it will give us a little bit of time to adjust. Overall, I think it will be an exciting series and there are exciting players in both sides; it looks like it will be an interesting series.

"South Africa is a very good team, they are well-balanced in both ODIs and Test matches. They have a genuine all-rounder in their team because of which their strength increases. It is going to be a very exciting series."

Pressure and how India's relatively inexperienced players cope with it, both in the ODIs and the Test matches will decide the outcome, because the talent in this team is undoubtedly there, it is just a matter of whether they can adapt to the changing surroundings, and if so, how quickly.

"There is always a new start," Dhoni added. "I think it is fairly important that they have good amount of exposure. The ODIs are outside India. That always helps you adjust to the pace and bounce of the wicket.

"When you go into a new place, [it's important] how quickly you adjust. So I think it will be a new challenge for all of them. It is a learning curve. It's the first time that they will be going there and they will learn a lot in the series."

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