Lavish in his praise for centurion Virat Kohli, Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni said the swashbuckling batsman paced his knock very well while guiding India to what turned out to be a match-winning total against South Africa in the do-or-die fourth ODI.
India rode on Kohli’s brilliant 138 to post 299 for eight and then restricted the visitors to 264 for nine, despite a valiant ton by rival skipper AB de Villiers to win by 35 runs and level the five-match series 2-2.
“Virat is someone always keen on improving his game. Even when he would get out scoring a 60 or a 70, he wanted to convert it into a hundred. The way he paced from 50 to 60 and then from 100 to 110, this is the bracket when most batsmen get out. Once he crosses that mark, he’ll always play a big innings because that’s his mindset,” said Dhoni at the post-match press conference here last night.
Dhoni also praised Kohli for rotating the strike and putting pressure on the fielding side.
“He was rotating the strike really well. Also, the important thing is when you play such a long innings, the middle overs — putting pressure on the fielders is the key,” he said.
“If you can freely rotate…that’s one area where we have to improve as a team, especially with the kind of reverse swing the opposition gets. They can cramp us and have a fielder close to the umpire and mid-wicket. If both batsmen can do it, it eases off the pressure,” he added.
Another player to get the captain’s applause was senior off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. The tweaker finished with figures of two for 50 and Dhoni admitted that he eased the pressure on other bowlers.
“Our spinners bowled well and applied pressure. Harbhajan bowled well in the powerplay and later. He also did well in the middle overs. He is someone who is very experienced. He has done well in IPL also. He has the experience and has been bowling well as of now,” he said.
“We always assess bowling in terms of wickets. But a lot of times, especially being the wicketkeeper, you have the advantage of seeing what a bowler is doing and how much he’s extracting from the wicket. I feel he’s bowling really well,” he added.
The skipper said while regular off-spinner R Ashwin was missed, Harbhajan did a good job filling up for him.
“Yes, losing Ashwin at the start of the series was a big blow. In these conditions especially, he’s our main bowler. I can use him in the powerplay, middle overs and slog overs. It did put a bit of pressure on me but the way Harbhajan has bowled so far in the series has eased a bit of pressure. I can use him in the first 10 and also in the end,” Dhoni said.
On the variety of spin bowling in the Indian side, Dhoni said, “The variety is very good, but you have to look at the batting at no. 7. It sounds very good to play with five bowlers, but you need to have someone who can bat at no. 7.
“If the opposition gets two wickets with the new ball, then there is a lot of pressure on the middle order. As I have been saying, from the 40th to 50th over, it’s not easy to just go in and slam the big shots and get 80-90 runs.”
Dhoni said it was good that middle-order batsman Suresh Raina returned to form before the last ODI.
“It was very important, going into the last game, to have batsmen who have scored runs. Yes, he made a few bad decisions (in previous games) when it comes to playing the shots. If you go into bat in the last five overs, you can’t expect to score a 50. But you can get 30, but to get that also, one has to play 15 to 20 deliveries.
“He has to give himself that kind of time. I felt in the games where he got the chance, he had a bit more time. He always played the big shot too early,” he said.
“When it comes off, it looks good but when it doesn’t there are a lot of people who criticise that. Batting at 5,6 and 7 is not very easy. At times, the top-order will do the job, but you will have to go in and play the big shots. If you don’t, people will be like, ‘the platform was there, he didn’t hit’. Now with the rule changes, people will find it difficult to play the big shots,” he explained.
Elaborating on the impact of new rules on a number six batsman, Dhoni said: “If you are looking for a 15-ball 32 or 33, it will be very difficult. You’ll see most of the sides saying that, while chasing you should not have more than 65 or 70 runs in the last 10 overs. But, it may change. It depends on the wicket and the amount of reverse swing the bowlers are getting, or if the bowlers are not executing the plans well.”
“Considering the conditions and the wickets, it is something that is working. But, it’s important to be ready with Plan B. You don’t know how long it will work. Batsmen, too, will try and get new ways of scoring runs, and you won’t get the same amount of reverse swing, or the ball won’t get scuffed up to the same extent. All of a sudden, when you play on a wicket with a bit more pace, on smaller outfields, the fast bowlers will find it tougher to use the same strategy,” Dhoni added.
On whether turning tracks would be provided in the Test series, considering South Africa’s performance in the fourth ODI, Dhoni said, “Irrespective of how we bat or how the opposition bats, I’ve always said this…every place has its specialty. When you come to the subcontinent, or to India, you expect turning tracks.
“People talk about sporting wickets, this was a sporting wicket. Who got wickets for them? Their fast bowlers. Who got wickets for us? Our fast bowlers and our spinners. At times, in India, people start rolling. When they hear there’s a Test match, the heavy roller comes on, and it goes on for 15-20 days. And then what happens is the toss becomes really crucial.
“A lot of times, when we won Test matches, they won the toss, we got them out and we batted for a long period of time. The only way we got the result was by getting them out.