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Kohli's mastery comes in handling pressure through singles: Dhoni

India skipper concedes Eden Gardens pitch turned more than expected, but defends decision not to bowl out spinners

20 March 2016 11:56

Mahendra Singh Dhoni conceded that the pitch at the Eden Gardens during India’s six-wicket win over Pakistan on Saturday (March 19) had confounded all comers.

It had been believed that the surface would, if anything, assist the quicker bowlers after having sweated under covers for a majority of the match day. Instead, the moisture helped the ball grip and turn, making for a low-scoring thriller settled by the brilliance of Virat Kohli’s batsmanship.

“Initially, we never thought it would turn so much. Reading the wicket, I thought there was a bit of moisture because they had watered the wicket yesterday and I don’t think they got enough sun today,” Dhoni explained. “The last time I saw the wicket before the start of the game, it was quite damp. And even when you roll the wicket, the top surface may look a bit good, but it’s more a cosmetic thing, because underneath there was a lot of moisture. I feel it was because of the moisture that the spinners were getting a lot of turn. Even the ones that were bowled into the pitch quite hard, if you hit the seam, you can turn the ball, and that’s what (Ravindra) Jadeja and (R) Ashwin did.”

Despite so much assistance for the spinners, Dhoni chose not to bowl Ashwin out, gave Suresh Raina just one over – for figures of 1 for 4 – and did not feel the need to employ Yuvraj Singh’s left-arm spin at all. “The Pakistan batsmen, they are good players of spin bowling. I felt that later on, there was a chance, if I had given it to Ashwin, that they could have gone after him,” he said of not bringing back the offie, whose first spell of three overs had only gone for 12. “I’m not saying he can’t deal with it, but I went for the safer option. I said, even if some other (fast) bowler goes for ten runs, fair enough, I don’t want to give them a big over, something where they can go in excess of 15 runs. I’m not saying he (Ashwin) couldn’t have coped, but that was the thinking at that point of time and I went for the safer option, though he (Jasprit Bumrah) conceded 12 to 15 runs!”

Like Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina had his second failure in the ICC World T20 at No. 4, but the skipper ruled out any rethink of the left-hand batsman’s position. “Well, there’s a very obvious answer. If people don’t score runs in one or two games, that question will be asked,” he countered. “If Shikhar doesn’t score in one more game, that question will be asked, why not Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane) to open and Shikhar left out. I feel it is important to back players. If you feel there are too many people who need to bat at the No. 3 slot, then if you compare the stats, especially when it’s happening in India, you’ll see there are a lot of individuals who should bat at three, but Virat (Kohli) gets an edge. In the same way, I think he (Raina) deserves that No. 4 position more than anyone else, and it’s important to back him. Yes, there might be tactical changes when he won’t get that slot, but overall I think he’s the best option.”

Since Dhoni himself brought up the K name, Kohli’s mastery of run-chases was sought to be dissected. “Well, it’s very simple,” Dhoni said. “What an innings is all about is how you convert it when you’re under pressure. There are a few ways to handle pressure. At times we have seen, in Test cricket, or ODI and T20 format, when there is a lot of pressure, often they go for the big shot. It seems at that point of time that that’s the best option, but when you’re under a lot of pressure, the best way to deal with it is to take a single, go to the other end, because that calms you down, and at the same time you have that positive intent because you’re looking for that single. And you know your areas.

“Everybody knows what his strength is – for some it’s a flick, for some it’s the cut. So if it’s in your area, you have to play your shot. If not, try to take a single, go to the other end. And if you see Virat’s batting, that’s what he really does. He loves batting with individuals who can run hard with him, because running hard is the easiest way to score runs and that puts a lot of pressure on the bowler and the fielders. That’s what it’s all about, you know – how you calculate, what is the stuff that you need to do.”

Including the bowl-out win over Pakistan in the 2007 World T20, India now has a perfect 11-0 record against their cross-border rival in 50 and 20-over World Cups combined. “If we are proud of the fact that we have a 11-0 record, there is also a reality that one day we will lose – whether it is today or in ten years or 20 years or 50 years,” Dhoni reasoned. “There is no such thing that you will always keep winning. Also, our team has evolved a lot. Somehow, in ICC events, our performances have been good of late, whether it’s the last Champions Trophy or the World Cup. We have given pretty good performances, so that also plays a role (in this record against Pakistan). I feel we have played good cricket, and that’s the reason. It’s something to be proud of, but at the same time, like they have the pressure of 0-11, we also have the pressure that you have won 11 matches. It’s either ‘You’ve won 11, and so you’ve also won the 12th, big deal,’ or ‘What? You didn’t win?’ That’s all there is to it.”