India v Sri Lanka, 5th ODI, Ranchi Kohli uses chance to shepherd young players

On Sunday, in Ranchi, between the 34th and 44th overs India lost four wickets, going from 180 for 3 to 231 for 7 in a chase of 287. At that point they needed 54 off 36, with just those three wickets remaining. An inexperienced batsman might have panicked, and the cause would have been lost. But India had stand-in captain Virat Kohli at the crease, he was well set, and he came with knowledge of how to finish a chase. And finish it he did, with a brilliantly-timed, unbeaten 139, which helped India sweep the series 5-0.

Virat Kohli raises his bat after reaching a century © BCCI

Virat Kohli raises his bat after reaching a century
© BCCI

That, Kohli said after match, was why he batted at No. 4 all through the series instead of his usual No. 3. “You need someone who has batted in such situations and knows what needs to be done,” Kohli told the BCCI site. “I knew what I had to do at that time, which was stay calm, knock the ball around for singles.

“Later on [in the chase] it is all about what your instincts tell you to do. Even with seven down I went after [Ajantha] Mendis because … I knew that had to be the over to hit out. These are the decisions you learn to make with experience of playing a lot of games. I am glad I was out there well set, otherwise it was a difficult situation.”

Mendis had had the better of several of India’s middle-order batsmen had taken 4 for 46 in eight before Kohli hit a six and a four off consecutive balls off him in the 46th over. India took 13 runs off the next over, bowled by Eranga, and the equation was down to a very manageable 21 off 18.

However, Kohli said, he might not keep batting at four once India’s middle order was back to full strength – they were without their premier finisher, MS Dhoni, in this series. “As long as we are strengthened in the middle order, I don’t see any reason to keep batting at four,” he said. “I have scored most of my centuries and won most of the games for the team at No. 3.

“As long as I can play in the same way I did today batting at three as well, I don’t mind batting at either position because I am comfortable at both. Whatever my gut-feel tells me and what the team requires off me will decide my batting position. But I am sort of learning to bat at other positions as well.”

Kohli said he was happy that he could show his less-experienced team-mates the way, since he had been demanding ruthlessness off them right from the start of the series. “From the first match I have spoken about creating a culture of ruthlessness and winning habit in the team, and it has come off beautifully,” he said. “If I ask the guys to be ruthless while being lazy myself, I’ll look stupid at the end of the day. Especially in a young team, the guys who are experienced have to lead the way. In a team, negativity can spread really quickly. You see two heads falling and six more will fall.

“The more the young guys see this kind of performances, and know that the intent and aggression is coming from the top, they would want to follow. So, I, as the captain of the team, need to be at that intensity level first before asking anyone else to be there. It’s a conscious effort I have to make, and it’s not that hard for me because I have always played my cricket like that.”

(ESPN Sports Media Ltd.)