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Features and Interviews

My role is to be aggressive: Johnson

Australian pacer wants to continue using effective short-ball strategy

Australian pacer wants to continue using effective short-ball strategy

Australia’s bowling spearhead, Mitchell Johnson, claimed the Indian middle order and sent the hosts on the back foot in the third ODI at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. The fast bowler claimed four key wickets and finished with 10-1-46-4. The tall bowler has posed a few questions to the Indian batsmen on the tour so far and has been utilised carefully and cleverly by his skipper. He has bowled in short spells and has been able to put breaks on India’s scoring.

Johnson’s decisive spells in the third ODI stood out in a high-scoring game that saw MS Dhoni (139* off 121) counterattack to set up the game and later witnessed James Faulkner’s (64* off 29) blitzkrieg to snatch the match away from India.

After Australia’s thrilling win to take a 2-1 lead in the seven-match ODI series, spoke to Johnson about his bowling, the successful use of short balls and the strategy against Indian batsmen.

Excerpts from his interview:

You relished the bowling conditions in Mohali?

I did enjoy it. The weather was quite nice it was not as humid and hot as the last two places. The wicket had a little bit more pace in it than Jaipur, so it was quite nice to be able to get the short ones up there again. But it was a bit of a shocker towards the end of the match; one of the best matches that I will be involved in. It has been a crazy day.

After your captain called correctly and after the start you got, did you expect a 300-plus score?

Yea, we have been doing that batting first. We have sort of got to get through that new-ball period and that’s what they did today. They sort of waited on a little bit; MS came out and took his time and then he cashed in at the end. I guess there is a little bit of the same with our batting innings here tonight as well. It seems to be the way to go at the moment in these conditions, to see the new ball through and then get into the game a little bit, work those singles and twos and then start hitting some of big shots through the end. So obviously with two new balls I guess that is the way that everyone is going on.

The way you started it must have been tempting for George Bailey to bowl your 10 overs on the trot. However, he has been using you in small bursts in the games so far.

It has been the plan for us at the moment; I try to bowl aggressively. I bowl my short balls in these conditions, so short spells are probably going to work better for me. Looking to try and get into their middle order a bit as well when I am fresh so we can expose them that way. I have really enjoyed the role that I have had over here with the aggressive mindset. So George has done an exceptional job there and I think he has worked his bowlers well.

How important is pace to you?

It is not everything. I like to swing the ball as well. If I am swinging the ball with pace, that’s even better. I have always enjoyed a challenge over here and I have always said that your slower balls and cutters are very important in these wickets. So I am just using them at the right times. So through that middle period I just mix it up as much as I can and try not to be too predictable; and it paid off today.

You have been using the short ball successfully. Can you elaborate on the strategy there?

The way that I think about the short ball is that over here the wicket’s got a little bit uneven bounce, so I reckon it’s a pretty good tool to have the short ball over in these conditions; and I have always said that. You get that variable bounce. We saw in Pune that the wicket was actually a little bit quicker and got through nicely, and then in the last game in Jaipur it was a little bit slower; it was quite hard to get up and even out. Here it was hard, but I think it is effective especially against the Indian players – they probably like to play more off the front foot. Since it’s working, I am going to keep doing it.

How do you handle the responsibility given to you?

We have all got our roles in the team and this is my role, it is to be aggressive. We are all doing our roles and we are all working together, working in partnerships. Clint McKay has an outstanding one-day record and I have really enjoyed bowling with him and through back end as well with Jimmy Faulkner. Having a youngster like that, who is fearless, is very exciting. So everyone just knows their roles and we are enjoying ourselves.

Your thoughts on the batting today – MS Dhoni’s unbeaten century and James Faulkner’s match-winning innings

MS he worked the ball around initially. He had an injury as well so it is pretty courageous to keep going. It was an amazing finish that he put on. The helicopter shot came out again, which he is famous for. That’s what you expect from him; the captain stood up at the right time. Unfortunately for him and his team Faulkner outshone him. It was just staggering. We were a little bit nervous, I was the next in to bat and we were hoping that he would go after Ravichandran Ashwin a bit more. But he just couldn’t get a boundary. But then he picked his moment and went for it. That’s how he has always played. So just loved the way he played tonight. He won it for us tonight.

Features and Interviews

Dhoni’s trust and experience helps: Virat

India’s top-order batsman also talks about improving and reinventing himself

India’s top-order batsman also talks about improving and reinventing himself

He is only 24 years old, but with 116 ODIs under his belt, Virat Kohli is emerging as the strongest pillar in the Indian batting line-up. He has often rescued the team from difficult situations and helped shape the innings like he did in the third ODI against Australia. The No.3 batsman made crucial 68 runs and was involved in a 72-run partnership with skipper MS Dhoni that helped stabilise the tottering Indian innings. He displayed skill and confidence as he negotiated the Australian attack led by Mitchell Johnson during his 73-ball knock.

The top-order batsman has played some magnificent knocks in challenging situations to pull India out of trouble on various occasions. After the game caught up with the batsman in an effort to understand what makes Kohli, Mr. Reliable. He also discussed how he counters challenges like he did today.

Excerpts from his interview:

India came back after the early loss of wickets to post a 300-plus score. What was your strategy to negotiate Mitchell Johnson?

He was bowling pretty quick but I was pretty confident about my preparation before this game and my feet were moving well today, so I just decided to back my game and take the situation up front and not let the scoring rate go down too much, because that could have cost the team some important runs. And then MS Dhoni came and we started to string in a partnership; so the strategy was to stay positive. And whatever balls I get to hit for a boundary, I will go for that but keeping in mind that it has to be low risk and we have to put up a decent partnership.

How do you manage to adjust so quickly? Is it form or self-belief or skill?

I like to improve my game every day. I like to go in and analyse the situations – what the team needs at that point of time, how I am batting at the point of time and what I can contribute to that situation. So it’s all about analysing in the middle how to go about that particular situation, because that’s how you improve as a cricketer and you want to get better every day. So that’s what I strive for. That’s something I always have in mind, to learn as much as I can when I am playing in the middle. Because you can watch the game, you can talk to people, but the most you learn is while playing and with experience. So that’s what I try to do and try to play accordingly.

Does having MS at the other end, or knowing that he’s still to bat, help the confidence?

I always have fun batting with him because he is one guy who knows the one-day format probably better than anyone else, be it finishing, be it playing in the middle overs or taking the team out of trouble. He knows everything; he is pretty experienced and now he trusts me as well to take responsibility along with him. So it’s quite a bit of fun because we think alike when we are batting in the middle, to make big partnerships, to rotate the strike regularly. So its lot of fun where we don’t have to say much but we understand what is needed. It’s a good combination in the middle when I am batting with him.

What would you say about Dhoni’s 139-run knock today?

We have seen quite a few of those from him when the middle-order hasn’t come through and a set batsman has got out and he has batted with the tailenders taking the team out of trouble. It is a great skill that he has playing with the tailenders; something that is very difficult to do. Something that we saw VVS Laxman do a lot in Test matches, which I think is a commendable effort. And today’s innings was very special.

Sourav Ganguly and Matthew Hayden have said that Virat is the best batsman in Team India. Your thoughts?

It is a big compliment coming from both of them. It is all about when you are in the zone just making the most of it and just trying to stretch my run as much as possible and score as many runs as I can for the team. And if people think that I am a responsible player, if people feel comfortable in the dressing room when I am playing out in the middle, then that is all I need. These kinds of compliments help along the way and always keep you focused to improve everyday and get better.  

Can you elaborate a little more on what it means to get into the zone?

When you are not in the zone you think about a lot of things; what the opposition is trying to do to you, what their plans are, what kind of field they are setting rather than having your own set plan. Being in the zone for me means being confident about my game and just having the ability to tackle any situation and have my plans confirmed in my head rather than thinking whether they are going to bounce me or are they trying to get me lbw; I just rather watch the ball and pre-plan or I have plans to score to a particular bowler. So when you are in that zone, you think about your plans rather than focusing on what kind of bowling is going to be thrown at you.

How much has self-confidence propelled you to your current stature as the most reliable batsmen in the Indian team?

I think the two-month break has helped me a lot. When you are playing on the run it is very difficult to take time off and relax yourself. But these two months I have managed my time well and I came back and told myself that even if I have couple of failures, I am not going to think that it was too much rest for me, because I know how important it is, especially as an Indian cricketer, to get that kind of rest. So I came back mentally fresh and stronger. I trained hard in those two months as well. I took a bit of time off. It is all about clearing your head, clearing thoughts and going out and backing yourself.

How different was Johnson at Jaipur and here?

The wicket was different from Jaipur. In Jaipur the ball was coming on to the bat beautifully; today in the afternoon it was bit two-paced. In the second innings the ball went through nicely for the fast bowlers but in the afternoon it was a bit two-paced because there were patches of grass and patches of dry surface. He is a quality bowler. He is the highest wicket-taker from their side and he bowls about 150 kmph, so it’s always a good challenge playing against him and you get to know where you stand playing against a quick bowler when he is coming at you swinging the ball. I enjoy the challenge.