Virat Kohli: captain’s thoughts

As a captain, I think I always believe and always tell my team-mates that I will never ask anyone in the team to do something that I can’t do first.

Virat Kohli with speedster Ishant Sharma. Kohli would like to have a national pool of 10 to 12 pacemen.   -  K. R. Deepak

Ravi Shastri has been a huge influence on Kohli.   -  R. V. MOORTHY

This is the second and concluding part of the interview with Virat Kohli. Here, the Indian Test skipper dwells on Indian cricket.

Question: Is Indian cricket heading in the right direction?

Answer: It is. It is for all to see. It is a responsibility that makes us respond to challenges and you can judge the team by how the players are behaving. How much hard work they are putting in for the team! The seniors have set benchmarks for us. I would always wonder how we were going to find replacements for the legends like Sachin, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly. We are nothing in front of them. They are all at a very different level. How could we emulate them? We are now involved in the process of living their dreams. We are responsible. We now know that at this level you can’t play certain shots in certain situations because things depend on us. You start thinking in this manner with maturity. We are thinking in unison to take Indian cricket forward. The effort is always there and that convinces me we are heading in the right direction.

The seniors have set benchmarks for us. I would always wonder how we were going to find replacements for the legends like Sachin, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly.

Do you desire any innovation in cricket?

I quite like this day-night experiment with Test matches. We should look to make the game more interesting, get out of the comfort zone and make the format more exciting. Maybe have half of the Ranji Trophy games as day-night so that players are used to playing day-night matches from a young age and are not exposed to it first at the international level and don’t know what’s going on. It is the only thing that has changed in Test cricket.

If you have to convey a message, stern at times, how do you do it?

As a captain, I think I always believe and always tell my team-mates that I will never ask anyone in the team to do something that I can’t do first. For example that match in Adelaide. The night before the fifth day I sat everyone down and told them we are going for the target tomorrow. Doesn’t matter how much it is. We will go for the win. If I say that and next day I go out and make 20 runs in 80 balls that does not connect me to the team. I can’t be saying something and not being able to play in that certain way. I first convince myself if I can do it and only then I ask my team-mates to go for it. I look to gain the trust of my team-mates. If you do it over a period of time the team begins to trust you. We believe in everyone expressing himself in the change room. We also have a simple understanding that nothing shall be taken for granted. It is a certain way of saying things. When everyone is working hard and someone takes things for granted I do speak to him. They realise their mistake when there is an atmosphere of honesty in the dressing room. The one who is not doing it will feel guilty and it will show on his face and body language. I am happy to say that today everyone is learning on his own rather than someone going and telling him. If someone is spoken to harshly then he knows it is for the betterment of his game and the team.

Which is the real Virat, the captain? The expressive man on the field or the pensive one sitting in the balcony?

It is important to have a balance of both. You are lying if you say you are not nervous or apprehensive as a captain. In Sri Lanka, when we won the Tests on the fifth day, I sat late into the night in my room and wondered what if they chased the score. That thought, of doubt, comes to your head. What if the plans don’t fall in place? Such doubts come to a captain’s mind all the time. When you go on to the field you back yourself to execute your plans. So that is the person you see on the field. Off the field you have a lot of things to think of.

Sitting in the balcony on the fourth day at Kotla (against South Africa), where Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane) was close to a century I wondered what if we don’t have enough time to win the match? We conveyed the message to him and he responded beautifully, started playing in an attacking manner. He got to a milestone and I didn’t want to take that away either. It is rare to get two centuries in a Test match and he had worked hard for it. In the balcony, I am thinking hard. That’s why I probably look pensive.

You are a vocal supporter of the six batsmen-five bowlers theory. Sometimes horses for courses. Are you flexible on this issue?

I am flexible because it is important to find people who can fit into the scheme of things according to the situation. That comes from a strong mindset of striving for victory every time. You go in with a set combination and then you are thinking of people getting a chance to play. You are not thinking of the team’s victory. For example, in the Delhi Test, we pushed Rohit Sharma up so that he can be expressive and not walk in after three down or four down. I went down to 5, Pujara came in at 4, Ajinkya went to 6. We were still able to deliver. We just want an opportunity to make a statement and here the team is very flexible. That allows me to have flexible ideas with the management, try different players in different situations.

Does India have enough decent bowlers to support our spin-friendly policy?

Yes. I have seen a few spinners on the circuit. Jayant Yadav (Haryana off-spinner) is one that I have played with. Shreyas Gopal (Karnataka) is a very good leg-spinner. Left-arm Pragyan (Ojha) is doing well again. Amit Mishra has done very well when he has come back to the team. We have enough spinners as a backup. It is just about backing them and giving them confidence. Everyone can bowl well, but it is how well you handle them and give them confidence that defines their bowling.


And what about the seamers? What chance do the others have if we take away Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Mohammad Shami…

I differ. I feel we have Bhuvneshwar (Kumar). He is always in the scheme of things. It is nice that Shami is fit again. Apart from that we have some seamers who are doing well. It is about how you protect them… their training, nutrition and handle them from an early stage to strengthen their body and hone their skills. They should be ready when they get to the international level. We need to work on this aspect, looking after those who are not in the national squad. The world over there is a pool of fast bowlers that is treated as precious because their career span is not long. The work load needs to be managed. We certainly want to do this, look after the seamers who have the potential to play for the country. Monitor their fitness and progress as players. In first-class cricket the pitches are not that quick and the seamers put in that extra effort to make an impression by bowling, say, 15 overs a day. We have to groom them the right way for them to be ready when they get to the big stage. We need to build a pool of 10-12 fast bowlers.

Your thoughts on India as a good travelling side…

The main ingredient has to be belief. There is no substitute for it. You may have the talent and skills, but belief is paramount. You have to back yourself to win the series and not just a Test match. Winning a four-Test series takes a lot of mental preparation, a lot of discipline. Not easy at all. You have to be ready for the challenge on a daily basis, mentally and physically. We have the skills. We just need to find the right kind of mindset.

Is leading the team the toughest job? Tiger Pataudi once said it was…

He was absolutely right. It is good when you are winning. The main challenge is when the team does not do well. How you handle yourself. You learn as you grow. You can’t afford to burn out quickly by constantly worrying about things. I think captaincy is a very tough job. I have seen MS (Dhoni) do it for many years. Commendable he maintained such composure. I don’t know how he did it because you can get frustrated quickly. You carry the burden of the whole team. The whole country, if I may say so, because the sport is loved by the entire country. I have seen MS prepare for different challenges, even the press conferences when the team was not going through good times. I used to feel empathy for him because I knew he was not enjoying doing those things, but he had to since he was the captain.

What efforts do you make to understand your colleagues who come from different backgrounds?

The stress level goes high, but as you said it is important to understand each individual. It is the toughest part of your captaincy. Luckily, in this team, we don’t have someone wanting a different treatment. Most are of the same age group. They can be spoken to in a similar way. It is important to find a way to motivate an individual if it comes to that. Man management is not an easy skill. You have to start with a blank mind and then understand the individual. Have to set aside your ego.

Your thoughts on the structuring of Indian cricket. Don’t you agree India should have a uniform coaching structure at the junior level? You were lucky you came to a good coach when you were wanting to learn cricket…

True. When you go to an academy you don’t know what is going to happen. As you said I was very lucky that I came to the right person to learn the game. But not everyone is sure of making it to the highest level. I think we need a structure or a system where the players are looked after well. I went to an academy which was not well recognised. So the only way up for me was by performing. I had no other option, but to do better than the opponent. There was no system where young talent was identified and nurtured in Delhi. You had to fight for yourself. That is why we end up becoming individuals and not team players. That’s the mindset they imbibe from the junior level. Fight your own battles. My coach has a good programme. Youngsters with little chance of doing well in the future are asked to concentrate on studies. My coach does not encourage someone with a faulty action even if he is likely to win you matches. Once you have a faulty action you can’t change when you get to the bigger league. Rahul Dravid spoke so well at the Pataudi Memorial Lecture. He summed it up beautifully on junior cricket.

What are you personal suggestions?

I would suggest classes for players on how to conduct themselves. How to be presentable. How to be able to speak to people. You are ambassadors of the country and should be able to converse well with people when you travel. You should not shy away from a discussion when you go to a function. You must know what is happening in the world outside cricket. You should be proud of representing your country. We were not taught, but I would like today’s junior cricketers to understand that it is important to be well versed with the world. You should not be caught napping. We should look after players who have represented states and country.

I would like today’s junior cricketers to understand that it is important to be well versed with the world. You should not be caught napping.

How has the new Director (Ravi Shastri) been?

He is fabulous. His work ethics have worked wonders for the team. He has a very big and positive influence on the team. He has played big cricket. He is a man of self-belief and motivates us in a different way. He is a figure of assurance for us in the dressing room. You can expect a positive reply from him in the toughest times. He is the one who told me to stand outside the crease after England. I was a bit hesitant because it was international cricket and bowlers come at 140-150. But he told me I could take them on. It changed my approach completely in Australia where I was a different batsman. He is a huge influence on the team. He is so honest.

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