Chasing under pressure: A look at how Kohli and Dhoni mastered the art

  • Sai Prasad Mohapatra, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 22, 2015 15:13 IST

There was a theory which held good in the 1970’s through 90’s — win the toss and bat, and seal it with a big score. The first five World Cup finals as well as 1992, 2003 and 2007 summit clashes have produced strong evidence to back this theory. The outcomes of only the 1996, 1999 and 2011 editions challenge this concept.

Interestingly, in the last decade, the approach to chasing a target has changed; it’s no longer seen as such a monumental challenge. The belief that the winning probability goes up if the team bats first is changing. Teams now bank on 2-3 specialist finishers to achieve the task.

India have risen phenomenally in the last decade, turning the chase from a burden to big strength. Some of the spectacular chases have been achieved by MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli.

Right mindset

The chase, seen as a burden once, is a big strong point for India now. There is one word which has no place in the dressing room during a chase: panic. This confidence has been cultivated under Dhoni. Three previous India team coaches agree that the match is often lost due to nerves than the opposition. A look into the shifting strategies of India during a typically big chase, and insights provided by Kohli, threw up an interesting picture.

Consider these numbers: Out of Kohli’s 21 centuries, 13 have come while chasing successfully. And 14 of his 33 fifties have come in the matches where India have chased successfully.

Match that against MS Dhoni’s record. Out of his 78 matches where India successfully chased, he commands a phenomenal average of 103.00 with a strike rate of 90.20.

Dhoni’s construction of chase starts on a platform already laid, even if wobbly at times. The first step is to arrest the slide, block away and drag the match till the end by saving wickets and then go for the jugular. For Virat, it is building the innings and then holding one end up to maximise in the death overs.

There is a distinct pattern to Kohli’s batting — circumspect early on, and absolutely error-free shots, vigorous running between wickets and hitting the occasional boundary in the mid-innings before opening up to play his entire range of shots. His strike rate grows exponentially — from 60 plus to 155 plus.

A phenomenal number of singles are taken between the 11th and 35th overs before he unleashes a flurry of fours and sixes during and after the batting power play. Only Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi is better in the final phase on strike rate, but Kohli has fewer dismissals in the last 10 overs.

“Since the last 2-3 years, my reading of the game has changed. I look to hold one end up regardless of what is happening initially; if I am around till the 30th over and last till the batting power play overs, I can make up for balls consumed earlier. I have also instilled responsibility in myself. Your instinct says go for it, but I talk to myself a lot, tell myself ‘no, delay it little further. I can make up for it later’,” said Kohli in an interaction during the home series against Australia in 2013.

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