MUMBAI Jan 8: After taking over the limited-overs reins from MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli wants his predecessor to play freely, enjoy himself and become the marauder that he used be during his formative years in international cricket. The new captain would also like to see Dhoni bat up the order. In an interview with the bcci.tv, the new skipper paid glowing tributes to “his captain” and explained the 2019 World Cup roadmap.
“It’s a win-win situation for the new captain coming in. Still having that guy (Dhoni) for advice. But what I’m really happy about and what I’m most pleased about is the fact (that) he will be able to play free cricket. He will be able to express himself as the aggressive MS Dhoni that we knew, when he came into the team. Somewhere as a player you understand that responsibility can take that away from you. I think it’s time he enjoys his cricket for how much ever time he wants and really expresses himself. He has taken so much burden for the country, and now it’s his time to enjoy it,” Kohli said.
Over the past few years Dhoni has become more of an accumulator in a young team without a settled middle-order and bereft of a quality lower-order finisher. Kohli, however, feels that the former captain regaining his attacking mojo would be great news for the side.
“About the batting bit, if I ask him (Dhoni) where he wants to bat, I know what kind of a person he is, he will tell me ‘wherever you want me to bat’. But I would love to see him bat higher up than usually where he has been for the last few years and totally enjoys his cricket. If MS Dhoni enjoys his cricket and plays the way he has in his initial years, the team is in a very solid space. His cricket ability, his understanding of the game, understanding of situations, is priceless. To have this burden off his shoulders I think he is gonna enjoy the best phase of his career as a batsman and he will be able to enjoy his cricket far more than he has ever done before without the burden of being under the scanner all the time.”
Kohli was also all praise for his predecessor and said that Dhoni would always be his captain. “Obviously these are massive shoes to fill. You think of MS Dhoni and the first word that comes to mind is ‘captain’. You don’t relate MS Dhoni in any other way. For me he is always going be my captain because I started my career under him and he is handing over the leadership to me. He will always be the person who guided me initially, who gave me opportunity, gave me ample time and ample space to grow as a cricketer. (Someone) who saved me from getting dropped from the team many a time. And that’s why there’s a huge amount of mutual respect, because he understands that being given an opportunity I have tried to work as hard on my game and actually improved on the mental side of things so that I can take up the responsibility later. We share a wonderful friendship.”
Kohli admitted that Test captaincy had been thrown upon him when he wasn’t fully prepared. Dhoni had announced his shock retirement from Test cricket midway into the 2014-15 series Down Under. In fact, Kohli also had to lead the first Test of the series in Adelaide because injury rendered the regular skipper unavailable.
“Test captaincy; I think I was told the day before (at) the meeting that MS is not going to play in Adelaide and I’m gonna be captaining the country. It was quite surprising for me because I didn’t expect it at all. Because, in my head I was still finding my feet in Test cricket as a batsman. But the responsibility worked beautifully for me,” Kohli recounted, adding: “Yes, I would say that the one-day and T20 captaincy has been something that I tried to learn along the line a lot more. I feel a lot more confident taking it up and starting it off straightaway because of the kind of cricket that I have played in the shorter formats and what I have learnt being in different situations in that particular format.”
He said Dhoni’s inputs will be valuable in future as well. “It’s something that will really help (me) understand the game much better. So yes, I have been preparing in my own head. MS has been speaking to me as well about strategies, about how situations need to be approached. As I said, one day cricket and T20 cricket is something I have had a really good understanding of in the past few years. So I will be able to execute the plans with more conviction starting off, compared to when I started off in Test cricket.”
Kohli is now the captain across all three formats and he described it as the “the biggest day in my life”. But he insisted his captaincy style and mindset wouldn’t change.
“For me, the mindset doesn’t change in formats. The most important thing that a team should realise is that the ultimate goal is to win. And in this day and age and the kind of cricket we play; we have to play consistent cricket at very high intensity for a long period of time to win games of cricket. One of the reasons we have been able to do well in Test cricket that we have been able to apply that extra pressure consistently on the opposition; enough for them to make a mistake.”
He spoke about the 2019 World Cup as well.
“Just hearing about the World Cup gives me goosebumps. To play a World Cup for India as captain would be the biggest achievement of my life I think. The thing that needs to be understood and addressed here is that it’s a gradual process. Good thing is that everyone is young. Everyone is excited to grow as cricketers, which is the most exciting place that a captain can be in, with of course the guidance and inputs from MS. I think it’s a wonderful phase for Indian cricket where the youngsters coming in really have an opportunity to seal their spots for that big occasion. We have a Champions Trophy coming up as well.”
He outlined the roadmap: “The main goal is to identify players who can play in different positions and who can work around the batsmen who are featuring in the ODI setup for a long time. At the same time, giving them ample time to prepare for those big events and not rush them into any sort of plans that they can’t execute.”