By Veturi Srivatsa
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s media conference at Eden Gardens in Kolkata, after India beat Pakistan for the 11th time in the ICC tournaments, appeared more like he was addressing his own team-mates.
Like a teacher telling his students which classmate of theirs they should emulate, pointing to the most scholarly in the class, India captain sang paeans of praise for Virat Kohli’s virtues as a cricketer and sincerely seemed to mean every word he uttered. He made sure the message went to his other team-mates.
For instance, when Dhoni talks of how Kohli handles pressure, he might as well be telling this to Rohit Sharma: When there is lot of pressure, often individuals go for big shots, thinking it to be the best option, but the best way to tackle pressure is to take a single and go to the other end. That will calm you down.
That’s what Dhoni too does, waiting for the opportune moment to lash out.
Dhoni makes no secret of his admiration for Kohli’s hunger to perform and his willingness to take up the challenge — the qualities that make Kohli what he is, a special. These attributes don’t come easily and for that he prepares well, taking care of his fitness.
Dhoni wants youngsters to observe how Kohli bats on different wickets and how once he gets in, he makes sure he converts his starts into big innings.
Like a sage, Dhoni also conveys to the youngsters in the team the universal truth that when they are getting runs, they should make sure they are big because they will never know when they get into a bad patch, which everyone goes through in their careers.
Dhoni has not left any aspect of batting that Kohli does not possess or relish, particularly in shorter formats, when he talks of Kohli’s running between the wickets and how he loves batting with those who can run hard.
A fantastic runner himself between the wickets, Dhoni explains how two energetic runners can convert ones into twos hitting to midwicket and long-on regions. What he did not say is that the fielders invariably fumble attacking the ball in a bid to prevent conceding the second run, thus putting pressure on the fielding side.
Dhoni gently reminded everyone that this is not the first time that his side staged a comeback from a bad beginning in tournaments, and that he is conscious of the fact that at some point in the next two matches the team will have to take the net run-rate into consideration, the result of losing to New Zealand in the opening game by a whopping margin.
Statisticians have numbers to tell us where and why a team has won or lost a match. They can list the games won on seaming pitches or lost on spinning tracks. They stay clear of contradictory figures.
After India lost to New Zealand, failing to chase 126 at an asking rate of a fraction over six runs an over, the commentators thought the Pakistanis could put India under psychological pressure by scoring 120 plus, forgetting cricket is not played on psycho analysis and theories.
To prove the point, after the atrocious showing at Jamtha, Nagpur, quite a few expected India to make at least a couple of changes in the line-up to please the professional mourners. Dhoni went into the Eden match with an unchanged eleven and this time they won it comfortably in the end.
How captains think differently can be seen from the fact that Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi went with four seamers against India while Kane Williamson dropped two of his best pace men to pick three spinners to tweak out India.
It is not that the Pakistanis suffered because of the lack of spin, their pacers Muhammad Amir and Mohammed Sami did as well as any spinner did in the match, it is just that the pitch eased out a bit when India batted.
Even if Pakistan had included another spinner, there was no guarantee that he could have done any better than Afridi. Dhoni did not bowl his best spinner Ravichandran Ashwin’s full quota of overs and as he said he was proved wrong when the medium-pacer whom Dhoni preferred over Ashwin went for 10-plus in the over.
Captains can go wrong and there is enough evidence of it already. Dhoni is aware of it as he gets his troops ready for the two must-win remaining matches against Australia and Bangladesh to make the knockout semi-finals.
(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior journalist and the views expressed are personal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)