ICC Champions Trophy 2017: Virat Kohli's tactical nous returned to the fore in India's win over South Africa

How often have you heard elite sportsmen saying they hate losing. It’s often the difference between a good player and a great player. Perfection isn’t enough, and if you want to be the best at something on the planet, you need to go beyond that. The pain of a loss makes them go the extra mile while training. A loss has to hurt so bad that the decision of whether making all those sacrifices every day of your life is worth it should be a no-brainer.

Virat Kohli hates losing. He puts up a brave face in the press conferences and interviews as he must, and says, "It’s just a game". Or like he said after the loss against Sri Lanka, “We are not invincible”. But deep down, Kohli knows he won’t stop striving for invincibility.

Kohli tasted a bitter defeat early on in his stint as a Test captain. In only his fourth Test, Kohli had Sri Lanka on the mat at Galle with a first innings lead of 192, and having them 95 for 5 in the second innings. Dinesh Chandimal then played the innings of his life, coming out all cylinders blazing to take Sri Lanka out of a corner and Rangana Herath finished India off on a turning fourth innings pitch to leave Kohli seething.

File image of Indian skipper Virat Kohli. AP

File image of Indian skipper Virat Kohli. AP

Kohli referred to the Galle defeat several times after that in his press conferences. He deliberately kept the pain alive to keep the fire in his belly burning. It had a deep impact on his team selection, strategy and in the general ruthless way his team went on to win that series and every Test series they played after that.

The loss against Sri Lanka in Champions Trophy might have had a similar impact on Kohli in terms of his one-day captaincy. India were favourites going into the game, they had put runs on the board batting first, but his bowlers were trounced by a display of controlled aggression by the Lankans.

Kohli’s team came out on Sunday to prove a point. They had gone back to the drawing board and thought about their plans. As a Test captain, Kohli has shown he doesn’t mind picking horses for courses. Win or lose, he will keep changing his combination based on what he thinks are his best options based on the conditions and opposition, and most importantly his own instincts. This means he will make a few selection decisions that will be criticised by the cricket pundits who are not privy to the tactical discussions in the dressing room, and have the benefit of hindsight after a loss.

The defeat against Sri Lanka notwithstanding, Ravichandran Ashwin would likely have played the game against South Africa, given the fact that the Proteas have historically been weaker against spin, and have a few left-handers in their ranks. It was the right move for this game, and eventually paid off when Ashwin made the first breakthrough, halting the steady progress the South African openers were making after a cautious start against India’s seamers.

The Ashwin we see in one day cricket is a far cry from the Test-match version. His action, his mindset, his bowling armoury is tinkered to suit the shorter version. In Test matches, Ashwin likes setting into a rhythm and bowl long consistent spells with occasional variations. In shorter formats, you can rest assured Ashwin will never bowl six similar deliveries in an over. He has often talked about the value of bowling a rank garbage ball deliberately to prize out a batsman. Kohli missed a wicket-taker like him in the game against Sri Lanka.

In the middle overs, South African seemed hell-bent on self-destruction. But, on his part, Kohli kept the pressure on by denying them easy runs, and by shuffling his bowlers around. While he wanted to get through Jadeja’s and Pandya’s overs in the middle stages of the innings, he kept bringing Bumrah and Ashwin back for an odd over just to change the tone of the proceedings.

The middle overs in one-day cricket is an area where an astute captain can make a tactical impact in the field. The opening and death overs generally proceed as per set plans. At times captains have the tendency to sit back and let the game drift in the middle overs, as it happened in the game against Sri Lanka. This is where Dhoni was so good as a captain, he bossed the middle overs to quietly slide the game away from the opposition. Kohli isn’t there quite yet but his last game was a big improvement.

When India batted, Kohli did what he does best. He decided to shepherd the chase till the end. India were chasing a small total, so he could take his time and settle in before bringing out some of his carefully crafted drives to announce his arrival into the tournament.

India will now face Bangladesh in the semi-final. Kohli will be again on the drawing board thinking about the team combination for that game. An unchanged eleven is likely, but Kohli may not mind going in with an extra pace option given how Bangladesh capitulated against pace in the practice game.

With Kohli, you can never predict though. He may surprise all of us and his opponents again with his choice of men for the semi-final.

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Published Date: Jun 13, 2017 09:32 am | Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 09:49 am

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