By Tapan Mohanta
Mirpur (Bangladesh), Mar 3: His team is on the verge of being knocked out of the Asia Cup after back-to-back losses but India’s stand-in skipper Virat Kohli said he is not at all shocked by the prospect as his side is massively inexperienced even though it has shown “character”.
India have lost consecutive matches to Sri Lanka and arch-rivals Pakistan in the five-team event and are all but out of contention for a spot in the final. “I’m not shocked at all. I’m really proud of the way the boys fought it out. I’m really proud of the way the team showed character in the field and with the bowling as well. 245 against a team like Pakistan and on that wicket with the dew is not easy to defend, but I think the guys showed a lot of character,” Kohli said after the one-wicket loss to Pakistan here.
The defeat was crushing for the fact that India could have nailed it had it not been for successive sixes struck by Shahid Afridi in the final over of the game.
“If you see the kind of batsmen they had and our bowlers with the inexperience they had, still to put up that kind of fight. I mean you see (Amit) Mishra, he gave only 28 runs in 10 overs, took two wickets, bowled brilliantly against the likes of Misbah, Hafeez, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi. So I think it was a commendable effort and I’m really, really proud of the way the guys fought it out,” Kohli said.
“If you compare the experience of our team with their team, it’s massive, it’s huge. And in International cricket it really counts a lot. You can get away with it in Twenty20, but in the 50-over format you need to show a lot of character and that’s exactly what the boys did,” he added.
Defending a modest 246, Indian bowlers, particularly Mishra (2/28 from 10 overs) and R Ashwin (3/44), took the match to the wire and Pakistan were left needing nine runs off the last four balls with one wicket in hand.
But Afridi’s big blows sealed the win which took Pakistan a step closer to the final.
Defending his decision to give Ashwin the last over, Kohli said: “I knew that if I put the seamers in before and Ashwin comes to bowl, they will go for it. Wickets are all we wanted. If Afridi and Umar Gul had just played singles they would have won easily. I took that risk of putting the seamers in and making them hit the ball. We almost pulled it off as well in the end.”
“Those last two sixes were not quite off the middle of the bat. One side was a small boundary, but that’s how it goes. We almost pulled it off.”
Showering more praise on Mishra, the skipper said the decision to draft in the leg-spinner was taken after their loss to Sri Lanka in the previous match. “Even with the dew, if you can get the wicket to dry out, and these wickets are pretty dry, so if the bowler can bowl three deliveries in an over on an area, it’s much better for the spinner. He has more of a wicket-taking chance compared to the fast bowlers. With dew coming in at the end, the fast bowlers tend to go for plenty of runs. That was the idea in the last game itself. Rohit Sharma had contained them (Sri Lanka) pretty nicely and there I made a decision that we should go with three spinners,” he explained.
“These guys have a lot of right-handers in the squad as well and Mishra turns to the ball, so I wanted that attacking bowler in the bowling line-up and it almost paid off for us. I think he and Ashwin were the difference in the game today. The way they controlled that situation was magnificent.”
Kohli felt Mishra showed a lot of courage in taking up the challenge he threw at him.
“I’ve always been really impressed by Amit Mishra. He’s an attacking bowler, which I like as well. He always likes to make the batsman take on that extra fielder inside the circle. The way he bowled with such a small target to defend I think it was brilliant on his part,” he said. “The amount of character he showed, he certainly put his hand up. In the future as well, if we want to play with three spinners or we want to go with the same kind of bowling attack, he would certainly be one of our priorities.
“He’s brilliant with the ball, turns it on any sort of wicket and today he showed what he could do. I’m really, really happy for him.”
Asked why Mishra was not considered for earlier matches, Kohli said: “Well that’s one thing you can say now. If he went for 70 in 10 I don’t think you would have asked me that question.”? Kohli also gave credit to Afridi for his unbeaten 18-ball 34 that proved to be the difference between both the teams.
“He has always been big hitter, but we also took a chance that if he mistimes one of Ashwin’s carrom balls at the end, then we’ll have a good chance. It was like that, if he had mistimed it, we would have won, and if he hit a good shot the game would have gone the other way.
“That was the plan, that he likes to play his shots and hopefully if one is mistimed and goes to hand then we can have a good chance. It went in the air two or three times, but credit to him, they cleared the boundary well.”