“The last four overs is a phase where we really want to score as many as you can and that was an area where we couldn’t capitalise,” said Dhoni after the six-wicket loss at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium on Sunday (April 6) night, his first defeat in an ICC final as the Indian skipper. “At the same time, you have to give credit to the Sri Lankan bowlers. They executed their plans brilliantly. They were looking for wide yorkers and all the balls were perfect wide yorkers. They only bowled one wide or so, other than that they were right on the mark, which made it further more difficult for our batsmen to score freely.
”It (wide yorkers) has been something Sri Lanka always does. It’s just that they executed their plans really well. You can see the history of Sri Lankan cricket, whenever they are playing, they go for the wide yorkers. (Lasith) Malinga is someone who loves to bowl his yorkers. But this game was slightly different because the execution was so good that you could see what was happening. It’s something they keep on doing. They are fantastic, they keep changing their plans when needed.”
In easily his most forgettable international outing, Yuvraj made just 11 off 21 deliveries, both taking the momentum out of the innings and, as crucially, denying form batsman Virat Kohli the strike. Asked if any instructions were sent out to Yuvraj, Dhoni replied, “The thing is he was trying. That is the most you can do. It’s a team thing, let us not talk about individuals.”
The Yuvraj question wasn’t going away that easily, understandably, but Dhoni was quick to point out that the disappointment and anger of the fans was nothing compared to that of the player himself. “I can tell you one thing, you talk about the anger of the fans and all, you know it’s always the individual who is more disappointed than the fans,” remarked Dhoni. “As a player, you go through more because you have your expectations and everything else.
“Yes, fans get angry, but you should also think about the individual. Nobody wants to really play bad cricket. In front of 40,000 people, you don’t really want to drop a catch or misfield. It’s part and parcel of the game. And we have seen it happen to some of the international athletes, not just cricketers. Let’s get rid of it. Yuvi tried his best, it was an off day for him, at the same time, it’s not easy for a batsman to go out there and start slogging.”
Dhoni admitted to a sense of disappointment at the break, given that India had managed only 130 for 4 after being put in. ”You always have to see if the opposition played better cricket than you or whether it was your fault. In this case, I thought they executed their plans well. But at the same time yes, there was a bit of disappointment. Also, we were able to defend something close to 130 in the Champions Trophy. In the T20 format, we had one more fielder outside. We knew we had our chances but it was that we had to bowl really well. I felt under lights, the wicket behaved slightly differently. It started coming on to the bat relatively well compared to the first innings.”
Defending such a small total, India needed early wickets, but Dhoni didn’t bring on R Ashwin, the off-spinner who had taken nine wickets in his last three bowls, until the fifth over, with Sri Lanka on 37 for 1. “If I had used him upfront, there was no one in the middle overs to really capitalise. It was important for us to take wickets when we started off. But, at the same time, you had to see they had lots of left-handers in their team which meant with more fielders outside, if Ashwin was bowling, it could get us more wickets,” reasoned Dhoni.
“I wanted more overs from him in the middle overs after the first six. But I was pushed to bowl him after the fast bowlers went for a few runs. That’s why I brought him, he got a wicket, and then I had to keep shuffling the bowlers. That has been the case, there was a thought (to open with Ashwin), but you have to weigh everything else and I thought when the batsmen are looking to play the big shot, that’s the time I’ll try to bring him on and get a wicket.”
Given the wisdom of hindsight, it was no surprise that Dhoni was asked why he didn’t come in at No. 4, ahead of Yuvraj. “If you see our batting line-up, most of the batsmen are really good T20 batsmen. We only have one, Suresh Raina, who can go in and really start hitting from the very first ball. Most of the other batsmen like to spend a bit of time and then play the big shots. That’s more the reason why we want Yuvi at No. 4 and then Raina at No. 5. And also, in this game, two right-handers (Rohit Sharma and Kohli) were batting at that point of time. You wanted a left-right combination to make it difficult for the bowlers to execute their plans. That was the reason why we had Yuvi at No. 4. After that, we wanted to keep a left-right combination. But in the last two overs, I said ‘let’s go and try something’,” said Dhoni.
For all the heartbreak in the final, Dhoni said he was satisfied with the overall performance of the team in the competition. “The whole tournament, we played really well, right from the practice matches, and it was evident from the fact that we didn’t have too many changes in our side as the tournament progressed,” he said. “ Overall, I am very happy with how everybody performed. The spinners contributed when there was a bit of turn for them. Throughout the tournament, more often than not, they bowled well. And Virat has been brilliant for us for the last one, one-and-a-half years, even more. He is someone who has been very consistent.”