Virat Kohli has spent half his international career being the angry young man of Indian cricket. The captain, however has chosen a distinctly more amicable path in his latest avatar. Having lost the first Test against Australia by the crushing margin of 333 runs, Kohli knew that he was likely to be asked some annoying questions ahead of the second Test in Bangalore. He focussed on the team’s lack of intent at key moments of the first Test, and bantered cheerfully with journalists who mustered the temerity to try and poke a reaction out of him. Excerpts:
On the importance of restricting Steven Smith
Our focus is not only him. I think the whole team has to play well against Australia to win a Test match. That is something that we have identified. We are not focusing on one player at all. As I said last time, if we don’t grab on to our chances, it doesn’t matter how many runs someone ends up scoring. Basically, what was in our control, we did not execute that. So we are not focusing on one player only. The whole ten wickets have to be taken twice to win a Test match and that’s something that we already know.
Do you think losses such as Galle in 2015, and Pune recently galvanise the team?
I think it’s an opportunity to understand what other things we still need to work on. We are all professional cricketers. But Sometimes when you are winning a lot of games, you don’t tend to focus on points that need to be improved as such. Because someone or the other is stepping up. When the whole team does not execute the things that you want to, you understand the things that you need to work on as a team. That’s always a good sign. We got to know a lot more things that we need to still keep working on to be the top side in the world. As I said last time, you can’t take anything for granted at any stage of a Test match. It’s something that you look as an opportunity to learn rather than a setback. I think these things are also important for your cricket journey.
Having enjoyed a good run, including a 19-match unbeaten streak, was the Pune loss a welcome wake-up call?
Sometimes such losses are necessary for the team. We have to test a lot of things. We look at it as a chance to improve some of the things that we need to win a Test match. We already know but sometimes you can’t do it all. Very rarely does it happen that the full team doesn’t contribute, it was one such Test for us. We got to learn a lot from the Test and our intention remains that same that we try and win. I think that’s one thing that we have done consistently, it becomes very important to practice consistently to perform consistently. When we win, we have to practice with intensity and even when we lose we have to practice with the same intensity. Basically, seeing the result you can’t change the way you practice.
Smith suggests you will be under pressure, having lost the first Test …
Me? Does it look like? I’m pretty relaxed, I’m happy, I’m smiling. It’s fine. It’s his view, whatever he wants to say.
Will it be more difficult to play Mitchell Starc in these conditions?
I don’t think there is going to be any extra variation added to his bowling suddenly. He is the bowler he is. We’ve got to accept that and we’ve got to face him the best way possible that we can as batsmen. That’s all we look at. We’re not looking too much into it. I think it’s time to focus on our skills rather than what Australia is saying or preparing like. I know these mindgames, and these press conferences are something they’re very good at. We’re still going to play the cricket that we played in the last two years and see where the series ends in the fourth game.
Are you disappointed that after winning so many Tests, people start criticising you after one defeat?
I felt this sort of strange energy that some people were quite excited about the fact that they had something to write about the team after two years. Yeah, the pitch came into contention and the players’ mindset and skills and pressure and whatnot, everything came into contention. It’s fine, some people would have made more out of their jobs in those few days, I guess. Us as a team, we never got excited by praise, we don’t focus on criticism either. What we focus on is what we think of each other as individuals in the change room and the respect that we maintain there. We take losses together, we take wins together and that’s how we move forward as a team. That’s one reason that we ended up having that streak, which we didn’t expect honestly. It became a streak eventually. Our focus was to win games, every game that we play. And the focus remains the same, it doesn’t matter whether we lose or we win, it’s the way we play. Last game was a disappointment in the way we played, it wasn’t more about the result – we’ve lost before, but we’ve lost fighting hard. But when you don’t have enough intent during the game, that’s when it hurts you. I think that’s all that we made of it. The comments or headlines don’t matter to us, they never have and we don’t base our cricket on that.
You lost from a winning position in Galle. How inspiring is that example?
You look at the situation differently. It’s similar to when you go into bat or bowl. You try to break a partnership by taking three wickets in a spell. You perceive the situation differently than other guys in the field and that’s where you can make a difference. Similarly with batting, a situation might look difficult but if you believe that you can win from there, things start happening. We have more belief and more experience in the team right now than we did back then (Galle). I can assure you that everyone’s taking this as a massive challenge. Everyone’s raring to turn things around in the series and play the kind of cricket we know we can play, not take a backward step at any stage.
Is there a chance Jayant Yadav will be replaced by Kuldeep? And perhaps Ishant Sharma by Bhuvneshwar? Watching the net session, this seemed to be the case …
These are perceptions. We have our ideas; we will go in with the best combination possible. Jayant has been outstanding. You can’t put too much pressure on a guy who’s played just one series. He’s been brilliant so far; the way he’s grabbed his spot has been outstanding. He’s a very intelligent cricketer. All of us go through the grind. We have good games, bad games, off days as well. Pune wasn’t his best game. I won’t sit here and judge him because he’s played only a few games but he knows how to turn things around and get back into that mindset he started his first series with. I’m sure he’ll get back into that zone. As far as the combinations are concerned, we are studying a lot of options. Eventually we’ll come to a conclusion this evening … on what is the XI we want to go with. But yes, all kinds of possibilities tomorrow…might be a few surprises.
Do you actually not decide the combination so late, or do you just prefer keeping it quiet?
We have a combination that we think of. And then we take a couple of days to convince ourselves. Finally if everyone’s on the same page then you go ahead with the combination. More often than not, that ends up being the case. We all agree on the same XI. We’re almost there. We will be there in a couple of hours.
Anil Kumble suggested that five bowlers was the way forward. Are you also thinking of the same combination?
We’re studying a lot of options. I can’t say whether five bowlers will play or four will play or how many batsmen will play. That should be left up to the team management to decide. I don’t want to say something here only for us to end up playing someone else. Then you guys will rip me apart in the next press conference. Why give you the pleasure?