Kohli’s strength is his character, says Dhoni
Captain keeps faith in old horses Nehra and Yuvraj and their ability to channel experience into what works best for the team
28 March 2016 14:22
When Dhoni strode out to join Virat Kohli, India needed 67 off 36 deliveries – not just for victory, but for a place in the semifinal of the ICC World Twenty20. Considering that the preceding 84 deliveries had produced only 94, that appeared a tall order on a surface that had slowed up considerably.
And yet, what did we have? Victory by six wickets, with an incredible five deliveries to spare. A partnership of 67 from 31 deliveries. Dhoni’s contribution was a vital but stately 18 off 10; Kohli turbo-charged from 35 to 82 in that period, 47 in that stand of 67, as decidedly dominant as you can get.
“He still needs to pay me, I was running his runs!” Dhoni joked after their wonderfully entertaining association yielded 46 runs in boundaries but several converted twos as well, brought about by pressure on the outfielders and the resultant fumbles. “I've said in the middle overs if you're a good runner, that really takes the pressure off you. If you can take the double, that puts pressure on the fielders. And it pushes the captain to bring the fielder up slowly, slowly you bring them towards you and then you have the power to clear over their head. That's what really counts. One boundary and the captain doesn't know where to have them, at the boundary rope or ...”
A little tangential there, but Dhoni was soon at his inimitable best as he held forth on Kohli’s calmness in a chase. “You're in the best position to enjoy. When everybody is enjoying, having fun and celebrating success that the team is having, you want to click a picture of it and put it in your mind because you won’t really repeat it,” he offered. “You can always celebrate in the dressing room with your teammates. At the end of the day, it is all about the team, not everybody will score. A few of us will have bad days. It is the responsibility that individuals take and make that extra effort because of which you play one more game and one more chance to prove yourself for the team and for the country. It is a good thing to have.
“Where it also helps is when the game goes into the last over, a lot of things pop into your head. And when you're calm, it helps you to pick the right [option]. It's not always that you pick the right one but at least you are in the state of mind to pick the right decision, thinking about it and you're not impulsive about it. It is definitely a good quality. But he'll be an aggressive character on the field, willing to take on challenges and be aggressive on the field. He’ll also improve. I feel he's shifting in the right direction. But he's a tremendous character and I feel he shouldn't lose his own character, that's what his strength is. He's batting amazingly well. He's fantastic, he's fit, he can field anywhere and at the same time he can run hard.”
One man who couldn’t run hard on Sunday was Yuvraj Singh, hampered by an ankle twist sustained as he set off on a regulation single as his foot got caught in the ground. With the event having taken place no more than an hour previously, Dhoni wasn’t sure how serious the injury was, or whether Yuvraj’s place in the March 31 semifinal against West Indies in Mumbai was in doubt. “We have to look at Yuvraj's injury, see what kind of an injury it is. Especially tomorrow morning or after 24 hours, you'll get a good opinion about the injury. We definitely like to keep a replacement ready like you see how Bhuvneshwar (Kumar) is travelling with us. So that guy is in touch with cricket, and travelling with us. So that he's in that mental space where if he has to play immediately, he's ready to perform. We'll definitely call for a replacement (reinforcement) if the physio says it's really bad, we'll take it forward from there.”
There were periods during the Kohli-Yuvraj association of 45 off 38 when the younger man seemed a little frustrated at not being able to put pressure on the fielders owing to the older man’s injury-driven reduction in speed. Dhoni was asked if he had contemplated any instructions at that stage. “It's an easy decision – you have two individuals who know the best,” he came back, almost before the question was completed. “Yuvraj Singh has played more than 250 ODI games and Virat Kohli is the vice-captain of the team. You have to leave it to them to take the best decision at that point of time. From outside, you can crib about the fact that he is not able to take that extra double run but also the fact is he had already played nine to ten deliveries and the legspinner (Adam Zampa) was bowling. He still had the chance of hitting a six – just standing there and delivering it. It was left to them as to what was the best decision at that point of time. That's where experience counts, when you have people who are batting and who are in the middle, they can take their own decision as to what is best for the team.”
India have been well served in the last two months by Ashish Nehra, the comeback paceman who was again outstanding, sending down 13 dot balls and going for just 20 in his four-over spell, which also fetched the wicket of the marauding Usman Khawaja at a most opportune moment for the hosts. “I think experience counts, but also he knows his body,” Dhoni pointed out. “He’s not someone who is 22-23 but what's important when you're over 35 is you have to know your body. What your body needs so that you can turn up for the next game and give your best. He's somebody who loves to bowl in the nets but also he knows which day he doesn’t want to bowl a single delivery. He knows what he wants to bowl and more often than not, he executes. It's all about that. You have a clear picture in mind as to this is what I want to execute. If you can restrict the opposition to 160 after, in the first six overs they had scored 60, I thought it was a very good effort by the bowlers.”