MOMENTS AFTER his appointment as India’s limited overs captain, Virat Kohli had said that having a player of the calibre of MS Dhoni – who is free from the demands of leadership – was a “win-win situation” for his team. Dhoni was at the helm for close to a decade, and ever since India’s World Cup semifinal exit against Australia in Sydney two years ago, his position in the batting order has been a point of intense debate and scrutiny.
With his famed finishing powers on the wane, most observers felt he was better off batting higher up the order, playing the sheet anchor’s role. Kohli, on his part, suggested he wanted his senior player to bat higher up the order. He felt that by doing so, Dhoni would be able to play with a lot more freedom, and in turn, it will help him enjoy his game. “What I’m most happy about is that he’ll be able to play free cricket and express himself as the aggressive MS Dhoni we knew when he first came into the team. As a player, responsibility can take that away from you. I think it’s time he enjoys his cricket because he has taken so much burden for the country,” Kohli had told the BCCI.TV. “Playing free cricket and expressing oneself” were Kohli’s watchwords.
Barely a week before the ODI series against England, India’s comeback man Yuvraj Singh too spoke along similar lines and re-emphasized what his captain had said about Dhoni couple of days back. Commending Dhoni on his decision to relinquish the post of limited overs captaincy, Yuvraj conceded that the move will enable the two to team up and play with the same kind of freedom and vigour that had made them such an irresistible combination at the top of the order for over a decade in limited overs cricket.
“It will be like the old days playing with him (Dhoni) when we had started. Obviously, I started much before him, but back then we were fearless when we used to play together. We can do the same this time, in the upcoming series against England,” Yuvraj told the BCCI.TV on Monday.
‘A good decision’
“I think he (Dhoni) took a good decision in stepping down as captain, as he must have felt that it would give Kohli enough time to take over and build the team for 2019 World Cup,” he said.
The two have been part off several match-winning partnerships in their storied limited overs career. Most will remember the sheer nonchalance with which the duo had pummeled the Pakistani bowlers in the fifth ODI of the bilateral series at the National Stadium in Karachi, eleven winters ago.
Chasing 287 for a win, India were in a bit of strife, needing 146 runs from 19 overs when Dhoni walked out at No.4 to join Yuvraj. The two got into the act immediately, orchestrating some of the most audacious shots from their repertoire. Nothing seemed to bog them down. Neither the asking run-rate, which was close to 7.5, nor the in-form Mohammad Asif. In the end, Dhoni and Yuvraj romped home with more than three overs to spare. In doing so, they finished an emphatic 4-1 drubbing over their arch-rivals. Not just that, it also helped India register their 13th successful run-chase on the trot in ODIs – a world record back then.
Working on fitness
Only time will tell if the two old guards will be able to replicate some of that magic, when the ODI and T20 series against England begins. At 35, both have seen their incredible powers wane in recent times. Dhoni has not featured in an international fixture since the ODI series against New Zealand in October, while Yuvraj, who started the season battling indifferent form and fitness, has battled his way to eke out 672 runs for Punjab in the Ranji Trophy.
He has managed to stage yet another comeback based on his performances in the domestic circuit, but Punjab’s Ranji captain conceded that maintaining his personal fitness was his biggest challenge at this stage in his career. “As you grow older, you have to work harder on your fitness. Apart from fitness, I am keenly monitoring my diet as well. Everybody in this team has high fitness levels,” he added.