New Delhi, India: India's Virat Kohli has gone to bat for his former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, saying it was unfortunate to see so many people going after the veteran player.
Dhoni, 37, led India to World Cup victory at home in 2011 but his patchy form in recent times has led critics to question the wicketkeeper-batsman's place on the side.
Last week, selectors picked Dhoni in a 15-member World Cup squad ahead of the 21-year-old Rishabh Pant, triggering fresh debate about his cricketing skills.
But Kohli, who played under Dhoni before taking over the skipper's mantle, said defending him was a matter of loyalty.
"It's unfortunate to see so many people going after him. For me, loyalty matters the most," Kohli told India Today TV channel Thursday.
"When I walked into the team he (Dhoni) had the option of trying someone else after few games, although I grabbed my chances, but for me to get that kind of backing, it was very crucial for me."
Kohli, the world number one ODI and Test player, also praised Dhoni for giving him the rare opportunity to bat at number three when he was just starting out.
Dhoni earned a reputation as one of the deadliest finishers in 50-over cricket before struggling to make a mark in the crucial middle overs.
Kohli said Dhoni's input and experience were invaluable assets for the team.
"He is the one person who literally knows the game inside out. He understands the game from ball one to ball 300 (50 overs) on the field," said Kohli, 30.
"I won't say it's a luxury to have him, but I am fortunate to have a mind like that behind the stumps."
In 341 ODIS, Dhoni has scored 10,500 runs at an average of 50.72. After a sub-par 2018, he bounced back to score 327 runs this year, including three half-centuries in a row against Australia.
India begin their World Cup campaign against South Africa in Southampton on June 5.