India vice-captain Virat Kohli on Saturday, dismissed South Africa pacer Dale Steyn's notion that he and his team-mates were 'frightened' of the Proteas' attack, saying they were good enough to tackle the host's pace battery.
South African pacers had peppered the Indians with fast and short-pitched balls in the series-opener and went on to record a crushing 141-run win. On the eve of the second ODI in Durban on Sunday, Steyn said they had actually managed to frighten the Indian batsmen at the Wanderers. But Kohli refused to endorse the Steyn statement. "I don't think anyone in this Indian team is frightened of anything. On a personal level, I don't think so. Off the fourth ball I was down the wicket. It is not about getting frightened, he is a quality bowler and we all know that. We should be good enough to tackle that and come up with the goods when we face them," Kohli asserted. (Beware India, says Dale Steyn)
"Regardless of the loss the other day, you didn't see anyone closing their eyes or swinging their bats around," the aggressive Indian batsman, who batted at number three in Johannesburg and faced the initial onslaught of their pace battery, added. (Preview: Do-or-die situation for India in 2nd ODI at Durban)
Kohli, though was effusive in his praise for Steyn. "He was quite brilliant the other day, he is a world class bowler and we all know that. To bowl three maiden overs when we are chasing 359 is a skill that is very rare. To see him swing the ball from middle stumps and get it past the off-stump, actually the fifth off-stump, it was tough to face but it was something very rare because not many can swing the ball like he does," Kohli said.
"We were trying hard to counter the bowling they came up with and they were bowling in great areas and no one was moving away from stumps, we were all trying to get into position to play correct shots but they pitched it in the right areas and were able to trouble us," he explained.
Even so, Kohli defended the batsmen since they were faced with enviable task of chasing an improbable 359 on a pitch that afforded demonic pace and bounce to Steyn and company. "When you are chasing 359 there is not much you can do, you may have a set plan that you don't want to play flashy shots in the beginning but when you are chasing a big total like that, you have no choice but to play those shots," he said.
When reminded that he struck some beautiful boundaries in counter-attacking mode, and that skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni also started his knock of 65 in similarly aggressive fashion, Kohli negated this theory. "The situation was such that you had to try and disrupt their length and score boundaries and if you let the run-rate grow in South Africa, it is difficult to chase down such targets. I mean I was pretty confident in my mind that I could take them on and when Rohit was finding it difficult for the ball to hit the bat, I told him to carry on and that there shouldn't be a rash shot and I decided to take them on and play a few shots and I connected a few," he replied.
"But counter-attacking cannot always be an option, and isn't the only option and it is only when you get stuck in such situations then you do that. It is about assessing conditions, the bowlers and not just step out and not knowing what to do," Kohli added. He has been at the fore-front of many run-chases this season, as well as the last couple of years. But a 300-plus target can rarely be chased in conditions that merit genuine fast bowling. (India lacked pace: Quinton de Kock)
"We have to sort of restrict them with our bowling first and then chase it down or vice-versa if we are batting first," Kohli said. "Our bowlers have been bowling in the sub-continent for a while now and the lengths cannot be adjusted at such a short notice. It has just been one match and the unfortunate part is that we didn't get that many practice sessions or practice games."
Kohli hinted that the team-management was not considering changing Indian batting order or in fact the six first-choice batsmen, for what is a must-win game on Sunday. But it could be a pre-cursor to team India making some changes, particularly in the bowling department, especially with Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav in the running on account of their superior pace as compared to Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma.
"In ODIs you need fixed slots because you need to plan your innings, know how to go about that. The top-four have to be prepared mentally and I think that it is important for them to hold to their slots. We have learnt from the previous game and you will see a much better performance from the bowlers and batsmen combined. I hope we pitch the ball in the right areas and perform well." "We always knew that we will get bounce and pace in South Africa. I don't think we are caught in a trap anyhow. It is a game of cricket tomorrow and any side plays it well will win the game regardless of the conditions," Kohli signed off.