Indian captain Virat Kohli insisted that he is mentally prepared for the tour of South Africa despite taking a three-week break for his wedding.
Excerpts from the press conference held in Mumbai prior to the Indian team’s departure to South Africa on Wednesday.
Is this India’s best chance in South Africa?
As a team we are very confident about where we stand. Of course we haven’t played in overseas conditions apart from the Champions Trophy where we did really well. We haven’t played in conditions consistently outside of India. Sri Lanka was an away tour but it was similar to our conditions. We are talking about a whole different prospect which we understand and we are looking forward to it.
If you look at the teams that have toured in the past, you are talking about some of the biggest names in India cricket. It’s not like that was not a chance. You need to play good cricket for a long period of time. That’s something we are pretty excited about. We want to go out there and express ourselves. Most important thing is we enjoy each other’s company and we are looking for that.
Comparing India's tour to SA in 2013 and the upcoming tour...
Back in 2013, we were all very excited to be touring South Africa. We were looking forward to going there and taking up the challenge. We did really well and now have more experience.
The bowling has come a long way. All the guys have more experience now so the hunger remains the same. We want to go back to try and do what we couldn’t do last time. That’s the challenge we take up. Because you go there once and then you won’t go there for a few years. That’s the nature of how our schedule is.
It’s an opportunity for us to go back again to try and do the same thing in a much more consistent way and in a better way so that we can get the results we want.
Not difficult to switch back to cricket at all. I was out for something more important that will remain very special for both of us. Switching back to cricket is not difficult at all. It's in my blood, like it is for every other team member and the team management.
How difficult is it to switch back to cricket?
Not difficult to switch back to cricket at all. I was out for something more important that will remain very special for both of us. Switching back to cricket is not difficult at all. It's in my blood, like it is for every other team member and the team management. Getting back to the professional front is not difficult at all. It's not like I have not done anything for the past three weeks. I have been training and preparing to play for South Africa. Somewhere at the back of your mind you are always thinking that something important is coming up. You're mentally prepared.
Is South Africa the toughest challenge for Indian batsmen?
It all depends on the kind of mindset you get into as a batsman. Even Indian conditions can be very difficult if you're not in the right frame of mind. If you're not there mentally, it does not matter what condition you're playing in. You need to take up challenges and then every condition feels like home condition. If you get accustomed to the conditions, you start feeling comfortable. For that you need to start embracing the culture - seeing different things, different cultures, so that you know what you're doing there. Last time also, when we were touring South Africa, I was really looking forward to it, Pujara as well, so did Jinx. So we ended up doing well because we were excited. And that excitement is important.
Is this the beginning of defining the Indian team?
When you're playing international cricket, if you tell me the home games do not matter then I'll be able to answer the question. When we are playing cricket for our team it's a prestige and an honour for us to be able to do that. We know what we want to do there. When you do well in conditions that are more challenging, it gives you more job satisfaction, that's for sure. But we try to do well wherever we're playing. We try to be mentally prepared. Our job is to go out in the middle and give our 100% for the country and get the result. At times we are successful at it at times we are not. It happens at home at times it will happen away. We need to be a little realistic with what we are doing. We need to do well with our training and try to execute that in the middle. It does not matter whether we are in South Africa, England, Australia or India.
Message for Under-19 World Cup team
I'll be meeting them. Rahul Dravid had asked me to talk to them. Even I'm excited about Prithvi Shaw. I've heard a lot about him, Ravi bhai has also spoken very highly of him. He has put up some good performances in first-class cricket. It's not very easy, very rarely you get to see such players. He has been made the captain ahead of some of the other players who have played Under-19, which means there is some special talent in him. If you're getting an opportunity at this age with live telecast and media coverage, it needs to be respected. Because you get very few opportunities like this. When they saw us on live TV, did people realise how well we play. It's a very big opportunity which needs to be understood well. But it is more important that the players don't take much pressure on themselves and enjoy this.
Raising the bar in fielding
We sat down and spoke about this in Sri Lanka (about fitness). A cricketer's career span is 8,10 or 12 years. If you start young, you tend to stay longer, maybe 20 years. Sachin Tendulkar's case is different altogether because of the age at which he started and the time at which he played. It's not possible for every player to achieve that. So realistically speaking, a player has 10 to 15 years. That's a very short span in your life. We sat down and spoke about it. If at that time, representing a country of billion, if you are not willing enough and professional enough, then you are not being fair to the country or the sport. So we thought about bringing in a few changes so that the professionalism can be increased and the players are taking to it beautifully. If you see their performances, they have been relentless. It doesn't matter if we are 3-0 or 4-0 up in the series or 1-0 down, our intensity remains the same. It's only because the fitness levels are going up. It's the collective effort of the management and the players are embracing it as well. That's why we are able to achieve that.
First time as a leader of a team on a 24-month journey...
I'm really happy for the boys as they can walk around without being hassled. We have missed that for a long time now. We just need to connect with life on these tours. Cricket will take care of itself, I have no doubts in the ability our team, in the work ethics of our team or the intention of every player. We are on the right track, we know that. What we need to do is not focus on it too much and let it take care of itself. If we are honest with our preparations and ourselves, we will be able to take care of it. We enjoy each other's company, we don't need to try too hard.
Adjusting to weather and Ashwin bowling leg spin...
It's a personal thing. You experiment with everything. Even as a batsman, you try to add new things to your repertoire. He is such an experienced bowler who has done well in Test cricket for a long time, maybe he would be looking to add to his skill set. Even if I'm trying something new with my game, I don't think I have to inform to the management, I can do that on my own as well.
Secondly, we have enough time to get used to the conditions. We try staying longer in practice sessions, sometimes even do two-three sessions a day in order to replicate Test matches. It helps you prepare mentally as to how the conditions will be at different points of the day. There are a lot of scenarios that we test and that is something that we are going to follow this time as well.