Virat Kohli is just so mentally tough, says ex-Aussie all-rounder Shane Watson

New Delhi, May 30 (IANS): Shane Watson, the former Australia all-rounder, thinks Indian cricket stalwarts Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni stand out as the most mentally strong players he played alongside in his vast playing career.

Right-handed batter Kohli recently finished as the leading run-getter in IPL 2024 with 741 runs for the Royal Challengers Bengaluru and will be seen next in action for India in the upcoming Men’s T20 World Cup, starting from June 1.

"The people that I've worked with one-on-one, I won't take names in particular, but just a bit of a knowing that even the high-quality international cricketers that I've worked with, like at the Delhi Capitals, for example, just the things that I've seen are - one, just their ability to be able to step into each game confidently and knowing what the best version of them looks like, so they're stepping into that every single time.

"Then the way they debrief a performance, especially when it's not a great performance - how they debrief that and just turn their focus then to what they need to do in the lead up or during the next game to be able to bring a better version or give themselves a better chance of having a good performance. So, there's two people that stand out for me, as I have played with both of these guys.

"One is Virat Kohli, who is just so mentally tough. He fully understands how to bring the best version of himself, which is getting in the battle, having his back up against a war where it's you or me, and he's fully engaged in every moment of every game. It's that intensity that he brings to, just about every game, is superhuman.

"There's only really a couple of other people that I've played with or played against who had that consistent intensity every moment of every game So that's something about Virat, that we've seen in this IPL, just how engaged he is. That's why he's been able to sustain such high performances for such a long period of time," said Watson in an exclusive interview with IANS, on the sidelines of his new book ‘The Winner’s Mindset’ launched by HarperCollins Publishers India.

On the other hand, veteran wicketkeeper-batter Dhoni amassed 161 runs in 14 innings for the Chennai Super Kings in the recently-concluded tournament, including wowing the crowd with 14 fours and 13 sixes.

"But then you've got on the other side of the fence is MS Dhoni, who is opposite of that intensity from Virat. He doesn't need to be like nine out of 10 with his intensity level; he needs to be at around six. But he needs to be in that sort of pocket where he's still fully engaged and trusting his intuition because it’s as good as there's ever been.

"Even at the ripe of age of 42, he still knows how to be able to let his mind be free to be able to access his skills that are so deeply ingrained. So, MS Dhoni, his understanding of the information and the world around him, to be able to break that into really simple concepts is one of his superpowers.”

"That's the reason why he's been able to be such a successful leader because he knows how to redirect players at the right time - whether it's in game or in the lead-up to games. But then it's also about him doing that for himself as well.

"So that's why for me there's no surprise why he continues to play so well even in this sort of smaller capacity that he has from a batting perspective, like last three overs. But you can see from a keeping perspective, he's still keeping as well as he ever has. So those two guys (Kohli and Dhoni) stand out to me the most in terms of the current players,"," added Watson.

Watson, the leading run-getter in the 2012 Men’s T20 World Cup, thinks mental preparation will play a huge part in various players adapting from IPL conditions in India to the ones they would face in the West Indies and USA for the showpiece event.

"It comes down to just understanding that even though it's a Men’s T20 World Cup, it's not bigger than any other game; as in it's still the same skill set. As a batter, you're still facing a bowler. You've got to assess the conditions and got to trust what you feel with the conditions. You've got to prepare as well as you can so that you're bringing the best version of you from a skill set perspective.

"So, in the end, these are world-class cricketers who are going from an IPL, for example, and they're gonna have to make little adjustments to the conditions and pitches that they're gonna be facing. Also, whether it's temperature, and a new team environment as well. That's where by understanding these mental skills deeply and applying those into just who you are, you build a really strong, like a bulletproof cocoon around you.

“So then whichever direction and team you go into, or the conditions that you are facing, you do know how to tap into the very best version of you and tap into those skills that you've got so deeply ingrained. The masters of their mental skills are the ones who are able to do that quicker and more consistently to be able to step into the best versions of themselves,” he stated.

Pat Cummins had an amazing 2023 as a captain – leading Australia to World Test Championship title, retaining the Ashes in England and winning the ODI World Cup in India, apart from being adjudged as ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year. Though Cummins’ midas touch didn’t give Sunrisers Hyderabad the IPL 2024 title, Watson is impressed with things that stand out in terms of the ace fast-bowler’s leadership skills.

“A couple of things to stand out in terms of Pat Cummins. One is that he allows people to be themselves. He allows people to play with freedom. So whether that's you've seen someone like Travis Head for Australia, you've seen someone like Mitchell Marsh who have come under Pat Cummins' leadership and they have absolutely thrived because he just said, you just go out and you just be you.”

“If you wanna like take the game on from ball one, then you do it, if you believe you've got the skills and you've got a run of it. You're not like if you miss out in a couple of games, you're not gonna be dropped. So that's number one. But the other thing with you can see Pat on the field is he's just himself. He's a chilled, and relaxed guy that doesn't get fired up.”

“He doesn't get angry; he's just very calm and stays that way and keeps that level of calmness. So, then people around him feel that as well. So that's, that's where they sort of move their energy to as well. That's what you need under pressure, you need a captain who's not going to be putting extra pressure on you to be able to execute your skills.”

“Instead, he gives you the right information to be able to clear your mind so you can, and are getting the best chance of executing your skills. That's what Pat Cummins does so incredibly well. The reason why in my mind, he's had so much success is that it's just natural, which is who he is, how he is and he's not trying to be someone else. He's just being himself, which is getting the best out of people around him,” he concluded.



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