Dhoni hails Kohli's 'incredible innings'
Videos of MS Dhoni losing his composure at a press conference after India's win over Bangladesh caught many by surprise. However on Sunday, the lighter side of the captain resurfaced as he doffed his hat to Virat Kohli for converting a daunting chase at the halfway mark into a canter.
Kohli, not for the first time, expertly steered India home, the hallmark of his unbeaten 51-ball 82 being his supreme fitness and ability to find the boundaries at will; he hit nine fours and two sixes in all. Equally creditable was the manner in which he overcame pockets of frustration after struggling to pick up twos when Yuvraj Singh twisted his ankle. For a while, India's momentum stalled, only for Kohli to tee off in style in Dhoni's company.
"I think it was an incredible innings," Dhoni said. "The fact is this wasn't an easy wicket to bat on. Back-of-length deliveries were difficult to get away, especially against the spinners. The good thing was I don't think they bowled too many spinners. Also, in between, he [Kohli] was hampered when he had the partnership with Yuvraj and they couldn't convert those one-and-a-half runs to twos. Maybe because of that, to some extent, we had to chase maybe one run per over more than what we would have liked.
"It was tremendous batting effort from him, superb batting. Especially the areas where you want to score runs, where you want to play big shots. I think more often than not, it is about selection of shots and execution of shots. I feel overall, Virat was very good not just with his strokeplay but also in the running between the wickets - you take minimum risk if you can run fast."
Dhoni downplayed his role in their partnership, suggesting Kohli's aggressive running resulting in Steven Smith altering his field, only to see the ball pierce gaps at will. "I'm not somebody like Virat who can hit it over cover, square leg or third man. I know my areas, and if it's there I like to clear the boundary. That's what my strength has been," he said. "In the middle overs it's all about running between the wickets. If you can take the double, that puts pressure on the fielders. And it pushes the captain to bring the fielder up slowly, and then you look to clear the infield."
It's not often that Dhoni, one of the fastest runners between the wickets in the modern day, is left panting. But the sprinter in Kohli surfaced soon after Yuvraj's dismissal as he pinched six twos, including four off the 16th over at a time when the match was still in the balance with India needing 47. Dhoni's contribution was 18 in the unbroken fifth-wicket stand of 67.
"He needs to pay me for running all his runs," Dhoni joked, when asked about completing runs that wouldn't have been possible most times. "I've said in the middle overs if you're a good runner that really takes the pressure of you. I'm not somebody who is great. I play unorthodox cricket, push it in the middle, and run one or two. If it is in your area, hit it for six. It is very simple.
"Every team has fielders who are not the quickest. There are those who are quick but don't have a strong shoulder. There are only a few, with us we have Ravindra Jadeja who can field anywhere and everywhere, we have a Virat Kohli who can do that. But not every team has four or five fielders who can field at important places. That's where you find them and when it goes there I'll try to push him for that extra run. And if you do that, it puts a lot of pressure on the bowlers."
There was a point in India's chase where it seemed like they had hit a road block. Yuvraj, who walked in at No. 5, hurt his ankle and had to be attended to by the physio. After that, India missed at least three opportunities to pick a second run, raising question marks over his fitness. While Yuvraj soldiered on to make an 18-ball 21, the discomfort while running between the wickets was evident.
Dhoni wasn't sure about the extent of Yuvraj's injury but mentioned the need to have a replacement ready should they need one going into the semi-final, against West Indies on Thursday. "We have to look at Yuvraj's injury," he said. "Especially tomorrow morning or close to 24 hours you will get a good opinion about what kind of injury it is.
"We would definitely like to keep a replacement ready, like you see how Bhuvneshwar [Kumar] is travelling with us. So that he 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. So we'll definitely call for a replacement if the physio says it's really bad, we'll take it forward from there."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo