Dhoni credits singles for Kohli's success under pressure
India captain MS Dhoni has said Virat Kohli's ability to rotate strike is the key to converting starts into big scores in pressure situations after Kohli's unbeaten 55 off 37 balls took India to a six-wicket win over Pakistan at Eden Gardens on Saturday.
Kohli arrived in the third over with the score on 14 for 1 and had only faced two deliveries by the time India fell to 23 for 3 in the fifth over in pursuit of Pakistan's 118, but Dhoni said Kohli thrived in such situations by not depending on boundaries to get himself and the team out of trouble. Up until the ninth over, Kohli had only struck one boundary but had taken nine singles in his first 13 deliveries in partnership with Yuvraj Singh to add the first 31 runs in a 61-run stand that took India within striking distance of victory. In all, Kohli scored off 28 of his 37 deliveries, including 19 singles.
"It's very simple. What an innings is all about is how you convert it, when you're under pressure," Dhoni said after the win. "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 their 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 his batting, that's what he really does. And where he has an edge over the others is, you have to push hard. That's why he loves batting with individuals who can run hard with him. Because running hard is the easiest way to score runs. You hit it in the middle, between long-on and deep midwicket, if you have two good runners, you can convert that one into two, or one-and-a-half runs into two, and that puts a lot of pressure on the bowler and the fielders."
The other ingredient to success that Dhoni attributed to Kohli is his "hunger to perform". Dhoni said Kohli's preparation habits enabled him to consistently score runs rather than going through dips in form.
"He takes everything as a challenge," Dhoni said. "He wants to improve, he wants to contribute in each and every game, and that's what it's all about, because he wants to contribute, he wants to score runs, he prepares well, he takes care of his fitness. He knows, he understands now, in different wickets how he's supposed to bat and score runs. And we all know, once he gets going, once he gets a start, he always converts it into a big innings, which I feel is one of the most important things for any youngster coming into the game."
Kohli's success helped shield the problems faced by other batsmen on the day, in particular Suresh Raina who was out first ball to Mohammad Sami. The left-hander has struggled recently, scoring 1 in two of his previous three T20I innings. However, Dhoni deflected questions about Raina's form and said the team still had confidence in him.
"People don't score runs in one or two games, that question will be asked," Dhoni said. "If Shikhar doesn't score in one more game that question will be asked, why not Jinks to open and Shikhar left out. I feel it is important to back players and at the same time, if you see there are too many people who need to bat at that No. 3 slot.
"If you compare the stats, especially when it's happening in India, you'll see there are lot of individuals who should bat at three, but Virat gets an edge, and in the same way I think [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."
Dhoni also gave credit to his spinners for exploiting conditions after winning the toss and inserting Pakistan to bat first. The India captain said the amount of time the pitch spent covered due to rain throughout of the day was a strong factor in his decision-making, though he was surprised at the amount of turn so early in the match. At the same time, he also explained his reasoning for not bowling out R Ashwin despite the trouble caused by Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja early in the match.
"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. The last time when I saw the wicket was before the start of the game, and then 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 bowling it quite hard, if you hit the seam you can turn the ball, and that's what Jadeja and Ashwin did. The Pakistan batsmen, they are good players of spin bowling, and later on I felt, there was a chance, if I had given it to Ashwin they could have gone after him. I'm not saying he can't deal with it, but I went for the safer option."
While Dhoni said he is proud of India's historic unbeaten record against Pakistan in World Cups and World T20s, he said it's not something they take for granted.
"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. There is no such thing that you will always keep winning. Also, our team has evolved a lot, and 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. I feel we have played good cricket, and that's the reason."