By Wisden India staff in Mirpur
India’s man of the moment reveals that MS Dhoni let him hit the winning runs as a ‘gift’
Faced with a tough chase of 173, India raced to a six-wicket victory with five deliveries to spare on the back of Kohli’s brilliant 44-ball knock that began sedately but ended in a flurry of boundaries.
“It’s difficult to rate innings, but given the importance of the match, yes, you can say it is my best T20 innings,” said Kohli, as remarkably composed at the press conference as he had been with bat in hand, after the game. “I have struck the ball better in T20s in other games. I have also timed the ball better than I did today and have managed to score five or six boundaries very fast. Today, it was difficult, as I had to work hard for the knock. But as per the importance of the game, this knock tops it.
It was Kohli’s third half-century in this tournament. “I wanted to play an important knock when the team had entered the semis,” he said. “I was in good form, so I thought it was better that I stayed till the end. In T20 cricket, it is very important that a batsman stays till the end. It was not like there was no pressure; it wasn’t easy. The pressure was there. But it is important that you don’t show it to the opponents. They are a world-class attack and the slightest mistake against them can cost you. I just wanted to stay calm and was keen to back myself.”
The scores were level when Mahendra Singh Dhoni played out a dot ball, and Kohli revealed that the captain had told him that he deserved to score the winning runs. ”I had told him you finish it off, but he said in this game, I can’t give you anything else. You have batted really well, so this is my gift to you. I told him that’s very kind of you, and I accepted it,” said Kohli, who heralded victory with a pulled four off Dale Steyn. “Hitting the winning runs is a wonderful feeling and I am grateful to him for allowing me the opportunity to hit them.”
Kohli said India had been very composed at the interval despite being confronted with its biggest chase of the tournament in a high-pressure game. “It (the dressing-room atmosphere) was pretty relaxed as it has been in all the games. There was nothing different going on,” he revealed. “Everyone was pretty calm, pretty relaxed, doing their own thing, preparing for the game. There was no panic, no tension. I didn’t feel any tension, you can feel that tension if there is something in the dressing room. Everyone knew that one partnership and we could be close to chasing this total down. The kind of batting line-up we have, one guy has to bat through and luckily it was me today but there was no panic in the dressing room.”
For a majority of this tournament, Kohli has refrained from having a full ‘net’ on match eve, preferring only a few throwdowns. This, he said, was primarily not to get ‘mentally disturbed’, offering a rare insight into the mind of a leading batsman. “Sometimes, I have committed the mistake of just being casual in a net session when I am playing well, when I am hitting the ball well. I believe with me the case is one bad net session can really disturb me mentally, so I’d rather just play ten balls, hit the middle of the bat and feel good at a practice session,” he explained. “There is no point going hard at the ball, playing 60-70 balls and middling ten balls. You’d rather have ten throwdowns, that’s what I believe. To have ten throwdowns, middle the ball because I know how to play cricketing shots.
“If I am in a good mental space, I can execute my strokes in the game. I know when to hit sixes, I know when to hit boundaries, so there is no point trying to slog everything in the nets, which certainly happens with me when I am playing well and I just go into the net session without planning anything. This time, I decided I have played a lot of cricket recently and I have been batting a lot, so there is no point having a bad net session and disturbing myself mentally. That’s why I said it’s important to keep yourself in the zone and that’s all I was doing at the practice sessions. That was the plan of those throwdowns, just to keep myself mentally there and not drift away from what I was thinking.”
Stressing the importance of the unglamorous one even in the 120-balls-an-innings game, Kohli said, “In a T20 game, a single is as important as a six, that’s something I always believe. I was on 20 not out off 17 balls without hitting a boundary. If you can do that and the opposition know if I can get two boundaries in between, my strike rate goes up to 150, round about that. It is very important to keep rotating the strike – in a rush of blood, you always keep looking for boundaries but as long as you keep rotating the strike and not losing wickets at the same time, keep the scoring rate ticking, the opposition captain has to think about a lot of things after that because if you can place the ball for two runs thrice in an over and the sixth ball goes for a boundary, it is a brilliant over for you. It’s very important to know the importance of singles and doubles in T20 cricket as well.”
India tackled the twin threats of Steyn and Imran Tahir exceptionally well. Tahir finished with 1 for 30 from his four overs while Steyn went for 36 in 3.1 wicketless overs. “Against a quality bowling attack, you need to be on top. It’s important to put pressure on a world-class bowler like Dale. That’s why the key is to score off the other bowlers so that he doesn’t have too many runs to defend. That’s why if you take six or seven runs off him, when he comes to pick wickets, it’s more frustrating for the opposition. The plan was to not give him wickets. We ended up scoring 11 an over off him and that wasn’t the plan at all. Once you start frustrating the opposition and not allow them to stick to their plans, the game starts falling your way and that’s what we decided to do.”
For the first time in the tournament, India’s bowlers slipped somewhat. They had conceded only 130, 129, 138 and 86 in their four previous games, so 172 by South Africa came out of nowhere, but Kohli said it was unrealistic to expect the bowlers to be on top of their game every single time. “If we have reached the semis, it’s only because of the bowlers. We haven’t conceded over 140 apart from this game which in these conditions is outstanding,” he observed. “Our fast bowlers have bowled so well, people haven’t noticed that. The difference can be seen in the first Power Play. South Africa have a good batting line-up and they played well, but (R) Ashwin again bowled world-class in a T20 game.
“To go under six in these conditions against that batting line-up is a brilliant effort. He got three wickets today and got all three of their main players (Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers) out. Because of that effort, we could restrict them to 172, else they would have got 195.”