India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni paid glowing tributes to Sri Lankan legends Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, who will be calling time on their T20 International careers at the end of the ICC World T20 on Sunday.
Dhoni was asked if he could say a few words on the Lankan duo although his team will be aiming to spoil their farewell from the game’s shortest format.
“If we talk about the two individual gentlemen, they have served Sri Lankan cricket for a long time, through all the formats. The thing about T20s is it’s a new format. So everyone has the same experience, including people (youngsters) who have played from the start with them.
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“Definitely, Lankans will miss their presence in the dressing room. Among themselves, the two I guess have played in excess of 650 ODIs and a lot of Tests. It’s a fair amount of experience and they will certainly miss that. But then every good thing comes to an end. They will have to get somebody to fill in the space,” Dhoni said.
However, he made it amply clear that the Indians were fully focused on the job at hand.
“Well, I don’t have anything personal against them (Jayawardene and Sangakkara). They are representing their country and we are representing ours. May the better team that plays better cricket on the day should be the winner.
“We want to concentrate only on that. We would like to concentrate on what kind of cricket we can play and what kind of cricket we have played so far in the tournament,” the skipper said.
Asked if they will have a psychological advantage as the Lankans have lost four ICC finals in recent times, Dhoni responded in negative.
“In this format, I don’t think psychological advantage will matter as the difference between good side and another side is narrow. All boils down to how a team plays on that particular day and how individuals respond to a particular situation.
“I think that’s all that will be crucial. I don’t personally believe a lot on stats. I would want to replicate what we have done throughout the tournament and I believe we have a very good chance.”
When someone asked him how was the mood back then in 2007 on the eve of their big final against Pakistan, Dhoni said in sarcastic tone, “Yaar chaar din pahle ki baat humein yaad nahin rahti aur aap saat saal pahle ki baat puch rahein ho (I don’t remember what happened four days back and you are asking me about what happened seven years back!)
“It is very difficult to recall as to what we felt just on the eve of that 2007 final. Obviously, I can say that there was a lot of excitement back then as it is now. We hope it will be an interesting final.”
Does he assess his leadership, Dhoni answered in his typical way.
“That’s not really for me to decide because from outside, you can judge it better than me. I have been given the responsibility and I try to fulfil it to the best of my potential. At the same time, as an individual, you will make mistakes and as a captain, I feel it is very important that if you commit a mistake, you go out there and admit it.”
He then made it clear that a captain is as good as his team because he can only decide but execution depends on someone else.
“It won’t always go your way because the captain is almost 98 percent of the time, he decides on something but it is somebody else who has to fulfill the job. Ultimately, it depends on the person and how he responds to the situation.
You can try to be honest to yourself, read the game and decide something. If it doesn’t work, you stand up and take the responsibility because that’s what your job needs you to do.”
He is known as ‘Captain Cool’ but this coolness according to him came as he was able to control his emotions in trying circumstances.
“It’s not that I was a calm person during my growing up years. I also did not like to lose. When I was younger, I found it hard to control my emotions and it used to be difficult for me. But then over a period of time, I learnt to control my emotions.
“If emotions are of personal nature, irrespective of the circumstances, you should be able to control those. That’s what I believe in and I have also benefited from this thought process. Because there are situations in a match, where you can be tempted to take a decision based on emotions but then you need to think practically also,” Dhoni stated.
The manner in which Dhoni praised Virat Kohli’s emergence as team’s premier batsman showed how much faith he has in the Delhi player’s abilities.
“Every individual is very different. Certain players play in a different way. Virat is somebody who is very different if you compare him to someone like a Rohit Sharma or a Yuvraj Singh or a Suresh Raina. That’s how you build the character of a side. He has done fantastically well in the last few years.”
For Dhoni, the best part about Kohli has been his ability to grab whatever chances he has got rather than cribbing for a few more.
“I feel he has been someone who has grabbed the opportunity to the best of his potential. More often than not, you will see individuals, if they get five games, they will talk about if I get two more games, I would have done something. But if you see Virat, the very first game he gets as an opportunity, he grabs it with both hands. I am talking about his initial years and there were 3-4 games where he got out after a good start – scored close to 60, 65, 70 runs and got out.
“He was really disappointed with himself and wanted to improve on that. Because of all those reasons, today you see him as a consistent performer, somebody who doesn’t throw his wicket. At the same time, scoring at a pace which is very difficult to match by some of the other individuals, yet he plays very authentic cricketing shots,” skipper’s admiration came out in the long answer.
Dhoni feels that India does have players who are multi-dimensional and that helps in preparing for all three formats.
“The players who play for India are multi-dimensional. And if you see the current T20 squad, there are one or two, whom you could say are T20 specialists. Other than that, most of the other players are good at playing all the other formats also.”
But he did speak about the flip side of it also.
“In a way, it helps us, but at the same time, the negative side is throughout the year, we constantly play cricket and the same set of players are playing all the international matches. The same players also go back and play the IPL. A congested international calendar is what we go through.”
Asked about how he felt standing on the cusp of history, Dhoni said, “It is important for us to play well in the final and not think about the rest of the things. Winning World Cup for the country is more important than thinking about the other stuff.”
About Sri Lanka, he termed them as a balanced side with a judicious blend of youth and experience.
“Sri Lanka is a very good side with a fantastic track record. They have got spinners who are exactly suited to this surface. They have a mix of youth and experience. Along with Mahela, Sanga and Malinga, they have also got youngsters like Angelo Mathews.”
The skipper was happy that his team has now come through all sorts of situations having chased down a stiff target against South Africa in the semi-finals.
“As far as last game was concerned, we were really tested in that game. In the earlier matches, we were chasing in the region of 140 and in the last game we chased close to 170 odd.”
“There was a bit of calmness in the dressing room and we had the self belief that we will be able to chase down as the wicket was slightly better.”
“So it has been a good test as we chased in excess of 170. But good thing is that we have also restricted some of the opposition sides to 70, 80 runs (Australia).”
Is there any secret ‘Guru Mantra’ that he will be giving to his boys prior to the final, the skipper smiled back.
“There is no guru mantra as such. As I said before, individuals need to take greater responsibility and we saw an indication of that in the last match. The openers played very well. Rohit gave us a very good start because of which it became slightly easier for the middle order.”
“Tomorrow’s match will be a big match for us and we will enter the ground with the same attitude.”