Having freed-up Dhoni around a ‘win-win situation’, says Kohli

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Virat Kohli on MS Dhoni: “For me he’s always going to be my captain because I started my career under him. He will always be the guy who guided me, who gave me opportunities” © AFP

India’s newly appointed limited-overs captain Virat Kohli has said having MS Dhoni in the team without the responsibility of leadership will be a “win-win situation” for India and himself. In an interview with the BCCI website the day after he was named captain, Kohli also said he feels “confident” taking charge in the shorter formats given his understanding of them, and is “excited” to build a team for the 2019 World Cup.

“It’s a win-win situation for the captain coming in to still have Dhoni for his advice, his inputs and his cricketing brain,” he said. “But 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.”

Dhoni stepped down as India captain on Wednesday, after a nine-year stint in the role. Kohli had been his long-time vice-captain.

Kohli said he and Dhoni shared a good relationship, and Dhoni had been grooming him for the role of captain. “I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of leadership and conducting myself. When you think ‘Dhoni’, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘captain’. For me he’s always going to be my captain because I started my career under him. He will always be the guy who guided me, who gave me opportunities, who gave me ample time and space to grow as a cricketer, who saved me from getting dropped many a time.

“There’s a lot of mutual respect between us because he understands that having been given the opportunity, I have actually worked hard on my game and improved the mental side of things. We share a great friendship and I couldn’t be luckier to have him around for his ideas.

“It’s something I’ve been preparing for in my own head, and MS has been talking to me as well about strategies, how to approach situations, etc because he also understood how important it is to guide me.”

Dhoni’s spot in the batting order has been a point of wider debate of late, with some suggesting it would be best for him at this later stage of his career to bat up the order and guide the innings instead of taking on the mental and physical demands of finishing games. Kohli, too, said he would like to have Dhoni batting up the order. “I would love to see him bat higher up than he has been for the last few years and totally enjoy his cricket. If MS Dhoni enjoys his cricket and plays the way he did in his initial years, then the team is in a very solid space.”

India v Zimbabwe - 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup

“I’ll be able to execute plans with more conviction starting off [as limited-overs captain], which wasn’t the case when I became Test captain” © ICC

Kohli said he thought he was better prepared for the limited-overs captaincy than he was when he took over in Tests in January 2015; then, Dhoni had retired from the longest format midway through India’s tour to Australia, captaining on Boxing Day but handing over to Kohli for the New Year’s Test. At that point, Kohli had played 32 Tests. Now, he has 176 ODIs and 45 T20Is behind him.

“I feel confident taking it up because of the kind of cricket I’ve played in the shorter format and what I’ve learnt from playing in the different situations in that format. So I’ll be able to execute plans with more conviction starting off, which wasn’t the case when I became Test captain.

“I was told a day before that MS is not going to play… and I’m going to captain the country; it was quite surprising for me because, in my head, I was still finding my feet in Test cricket.”

Kohli said captaining India at the 2019 World Cup will be the “biggest achievement of my life”, but, even while preparing for that tournament, he would not want to lose sight of playing to win in every game. Winning, he said, would be the best preparation.

“Just hearing about the World Cup gives me goosebumps. I think it’s a wonderful phase in Indian cricket where the youngsters have an opportunity to come in and seal their spots for that big occasion. The main goal is to identify players who can play in different positions and can work around the batsmen who’ve been featuring in the ODI set up for a long time, at the same time giving them ample time to prepare for those big events and not rush them into any kinds of plans that they can’t execute.

“[But] there is a lot of time to go for it. Our basic goal is to win every game that we play – not taking this process for granted, saying it doesn’t matter if we win or lose games. I don’t think that will create confidence.

“When you’re put under pressure, that situation is too overwhelming for a lot of people and you don’t know a way out. But if you’re encountering those situations and know how to win from different situations, it makes a mindset for big tournaments, for big games, for big oppositions and that’s what you start craving for. So I think it’s a gradual process where the main aim will be to win games and give guys the vision and mental strength, and the ability to counter situations and come back and win games.”

Being in charge, Kohli said, has made him a better cricketer overall. “Responsibility has always been good for my game, in the sense that there’s no room for complacency. In the IPL, when I’m captain [of Royal Challengers Bangalore], it’s very easy for me throw my wicket away after 60-70, but the reason I push on is that I realise as captain I need to set an example, make that kind of effort before I can ask the same from others. That’s something I’ve always believed in.

“It makes me a better player, it makes me a better person, it makes me understand the game more and it makes me much more focused on the game – understand the minute details that win or lose you the game. It works beautifully for me.”

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