Mohali: He may have silenced his detractors with a fine knock here but India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, assessing his batting in recent times, tonight said "I am losing an ability to freely rotate in the middle".
Dhoni struck 80 off 91 balls and shared a 151-run partnership for the third wicket with Virat Kohli (154) to guide India to a seven-wicket win over New Zealand in the third ODI and help the hosts take a 2-1 lead in the five-match ODI series.
The captain moved himself up to number four, and proved a blessing as he went onto create some records.
"I have batted lower down for a long time, I think 200 innings down the order. To some extent I am losing my ability to freely rotate in the middle, so I have decided to bat up and let the others finish," Dhoni said at the post-match presentation ceremony.
He added,"But I know I should still look for the big shots. Once you get 15-20 runs, you get into the groove. There were points in the middle where I had to pull myself from playing big shots, and batting with Virat helps because we know we can get boundaries, and get those quick singles and doubles."
Kohli slammed his runs off only 134 balls, hitting 16 boundaries and a six.
About his in-form vice-captain, Dhoni said, "Right from the start, he is somebody who always wanted to improve to win games for India. He is somebody who has learnt a lot and he is somebody who knows his strengths really well. It's very difficult to say what the top level is in cricket, but Kohli has done India proud."
Dhoni acknowledged the performance of Kedar Jadav, who picked up 3-29 in 5 overs.
"The surprise package has been Kedar, he has always given us wickets in the middle overs, and that's when you can restrict the opposition. But we have to finish better with the ball, the last five, six, seven overs. I have no clue how he gets wickets. It's important to have one in the top five to bowl a few, especially with left-handers in the opposition with him being an offspinner."
He further said, "I think we would have done better in the last game, but what's important is coming back and doing well in the next one and I felt it was a very good game for us initially, I thought it would be a high-scoring game, but the bowlers did well in the middle overs to restrict them to 280."
Man of the Match Kohli, too, was modesty personified as he attributed his knock to "a bit of luck".
"Bit of luck went my way, I feel sorry for Ross (Taylor), it's never easy to drop a catch and the batsman carries through. I've done that and Brendon (McCullum) got 300 in Wellington," Kohli said referring to the drop catch when the batsman was on six.
"We may have given a bit too much to New Zealand, but we took it as an opportunity to chase them down, because we know we are a good chasing team. Good to have MS up the order, and Manish (Pandey) gave me confidence as well when he came in. Shows the confidence he has, he was run-out in the last game, but he came here and did his job. Some of the boundaries he hit early on helped me relax.
"We fed off each other, I fed off MS as well. And it wasn't the easiest pitch. Some balls were stopping on us. In the past I have tried to play out of my skin, getting overexcited, but I've realised if I can time the ball, and hit the gaps and run hard, I can still get runs. If a bowler can hit the right areas a be good, a batsman can be good playing proper shots," Kohli said.
Talking about the partnership with Dhoni, he said, "Me and MS had a chat, he took on the spinner, even his mistimed hits go over the crowd. I know teams want to get me out immediately, so I take my time, go with the flow and then attack at the end. For that you need to play percentage cricket and I know I can play good cricketing shots and still get runs."
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamsnon was a disappointed man at the end of it.
"Obviously frustrating to lose those wickets in the middle in a clump, we were probably looking at a bit more at that stage. But the lower-order performed really well. Neesham and Henry were outstanding," Williamson said.
"But I suppose if you don't dismiss this man (Kohli) in a chase. You always want more on the board, we thought at the halfway stage at 160 for 3, we were good. But to lose those wickets and end up on 280, we were pleased. Maybe we wanted more, but with early wickets we could have made it harder.
Referring to Dhoni and Kohli, the NZ captain said, "You have to dismiss them, Kohli and Dhoni put on 150 and took the game away. Boys tried hard, tried a lot with the ball. (Taylor's drop) It's part of the game, unfortunately, you want to catch them all, doesn't always happen."
Batting at No 4 is more my need than team's
The skipper also made it clear that a need to bat at No 4 is more out of compulsion as his game was getting affected lower down the order.
"I am happy to score runs. I wanted to do this (play an innings like that) for a long time. I could express myself today. It doesn't happen at number 5 or 6. Batting lower is hampering my batting to a certain extent," said Dhoni after scoring a crucial 80-run knock in the third ODI.
It was his first half century in 11 innings.
Dhoni promoted himself ahead of Manish Pandey after batting at five in the earlier games. The move paid off as he paced his innings well and shared a match winning 151 run stand with Virat Kohli.
The skipper explained why he made the call of batting higher up the order.
"We (in the team management) discussed this. I wasn't fluently rotating the strike (batting at five or six). When you batting down, the approach is more result-oriented and you are looking for the big strokes. I feel that has hampered my batting to a certain extent. It is good that I got runs," Dhoni was very candid in his admission.
"At the same time, it (his batting at four) gives a chance to other youngsters to bat lower down the order. Batting higher, I can set the pace of the innings and not worry about hitting the big shots (from the start)," he explained.
Dhoni was candid enough to admit that batting at four was more of his need than the team's.
"One has to see that I am not playing Tests anymore. Lower down, I play according to what the situation demands. Batting at number four was an ideal position to express myself. It is more of my need than the team's. There are other guys who can play at 4 too but we need to think about grooming batsmen to bat five, six and seven."
"With the top order being in brilliant form, the likes of Virat, Rohit (Sharma), Shikhar (Dhawan), I was not getting to bat for a lot of overs. I have not got enough chances to bat in the last one and a half years. Since there are few ODIs this season, I only get to play one-dayers in domestic cricket," he said.