Virat Kohli, the newly appointed One-Day International and Twenty20 International captain admitted that it will be tougher for him to lead India in shorter formats but feels he is all but ready to take the team to new heights. In an interview with bcci.tv, the 28-year-old paid glowing tribute to his predecessor, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and also explained the roadmap to the 2019 World Cup. Excerpts:
On being appointed ODI and T20I captain
First reactions are it’s a very special moment in my life, it’s a lot of responsibility and something that I’m really looking forward to. I didn’t realise when this transition happened, in my own head. Starting off as a player just wanting to play for India and now having the responsibility to be captain in all three formats. I feel very grateful that I’ve been given this opportunity. When it was informed to me by the selectors and the BCCI, all the emotions and the feeling of me playing club games as a child, those are the first things that came to mind because for every child growing up it’s a dream to just play for the country and then this probably is the biggest day in my life.
I’m very thankful to MS Dhoni as well, for giving me this opportunity, for thinking that I am worthy of taking that responsibility forward. I’m very grateful for his contribution in this whole process as well, I have learnt a lot from him in terms of leadership, in terms of conducting myself, how to take the team together, so it couldn’t have been done in a better way, in such a respectful and a humble way by him. At the same time, me understanding what the situation is like and having that respect and regard for him, I feel really, really wonderful about this moment.
A wonderful switch from captaining in Tests to shorter formats
Test captaincy, I was told, I think the day before the meeting that MS is not going to play the first Test in Adelaide and I’m going to captain the country and It was quite surprising for me because I didn’t expect it at all. Because in my head I was still finding my feet in Test cricket as a batsman. But the responsibility worked beautifully for me. That took a bit of time to process and understand how it’s done. I would say the one-day and T20 captaincy has been something that I have tried to learn along the lines a lot more. But at the same time, I feel a lot more confident taking it up and starting it off straightaway, because of the kind of cricket that I have played in the shorter formats and what I have learnt being in different situations in that particular format. So, yes, I have been preparing in my own head, MS has been speaking to me as well, about strategies, about how situations need to be approached. Because he also, in his head, understood that it’s very important to guide me and to teach me as well. Knowing that the kind of legacy that he has set up, it’s very important for the person coming in next to take that forward and not be in a state of confusion. On the field, I will be running to him quite a lot, that’s what I feel. Even now when he was captaining we would always have discussions and come to a conclusion. I think it’s been a wonderful process.
“It’s time Dhoni enjoys his cricket”
It’s a win-win situation for the new captain coming in, still having that guy for advice, for his inputs, for the cricketing brain purely that he has. But what I’m really happy about and what I am most pleased about is the fact that he will be able to play free cricket. Now, he will be able to express himself as the aggressive MS Dhoni that we knew when he came into the team. Somewhere as a player, you understand that responsibility can take that away from you. I think it’s time he enjoys his cricket for how much ever time he wants and really expresses himself because he’s taken so much burden for the country and now it’s his time to enjoy it.
These are massive shoes to fill, there’s no doubt. You think of MS Dhoni and the first word that comes to mind is ‘captain’. You don’t relate MS Dhoni in any other way. For me he’s always going to be my captain because I started my career under him, he’s handing over the leadership to me. He will be the person who guided me initially, who gave me opportunity, who gave me ample space and ample time to grow as a cricketer, who saved me from getting dropped from the team, many times. And that’s why there’s a huge amount of respect, mutual respect from my side towards him and from his side towards me, because he understands that being given an opportunity I have tried to work hard on my game, and actually improved on the mental side of things so that I can take up the responsibility later. So we share a wonderful friendship and I couldn’t be more lucky to still have him around for ideas but at the same time have him express himself and totally enjoy his cricket.
“Would love to see him bat higher up”
If I ask him where he wants to bat I know what kind of a person he is, he will tell me ‘wherever you want me to bat’. I know he’s like that, but I would love to see him bat higher up usually than what he has been playing for the last few years and totally enjoy his cricket. If MS Dhoni enjoys his cricket and plays the way he has in his initial years, the team is in a very solid space. His cricket ability, his understanding of the game, understanding of situations, are priceless. To have this burden off his shoulders, I think he’s going to enjoy the best phase of his career as a batsman. He will be able to enjoy his cricket far more than he has every done before without the burden of being under the scanner all the time. I’m really, really happy for him and at the same time, I feel grateful and lucky that he is still around to give me advice.
“I believe in leading by example”
Added responsibility has always worked for me, in a sense that you have no room to be complacent, you have no room to relax at any stage in the game. And that’s why even when I captain in the IPL (Indian Premier League), it’s very easy for me to throw my wicket away after 60-70. But the fact that I push after that is because I understand that as the captain of the team I need to set an example and I need to firstly make that kind of effort before asking the teammates to do it, and that’s something that I have always believed in.
Responsibility is something that I really like, it makes be a better player, it makes me a better person, it makes me understand the game much more and it makes me much more focussed on the game. Understanding the minute details of the game, which win you a game or lose you a game. I think it works beautifully for me, as I said ODI cricket and T20 cricket is something that I have had a really good understanding of in the past few years. So now I’ll be able to execute my plans with lot more conviction starting off, compared to when I started off in Test cricket.
On leading India in 2019 World Cup
Just hearing about the World Cup gives me goosebumps, I have played one (two), I have played a couple of T20 World Cups, but to play a World Cup as captain of India would be the biggest achievement of my life. The thing that needs to be understood and addressed here is that it is a gradual process. The good thing is that everyone is young, everyone is excited to grow as cricketers, which is the most exciting place that a captain can be in, with of course the guidance and inputs of MS himself. I think it’s a wonderful phase for Indian cricket where the youngsters coming in really have an opportunity to seal their spots for that big occasion. We have a Champions Trophy coming up as well and everyone is really excited and raring to go for it. That’s what I know. Everyone is fighting for places in the ODI squad, we are still figuring out what are the best combinations that we have. So the main goal is to identify players who can play in different positions, and who can work around the batsmen who are featuring in the ODI set-up for a long time. At the same time, giving them ample time to prepare for those big events and not rush them into any sort of plans that they can’t execute. Keeping things simple, giving players space and time to grow, but at the same time, understanding who is suited for a particular position or a particular job in the team is the most important thing.
Groom players for bigger occasions but not at the cost of winning
Our basic goal is to win every game that we play. That’s why you play this game. Not taking this process for granted saying that it doesn’t matter if we win or lose games, we just need to find the right combinations. I don’t think that will create confidence; what will create confidence is we find a group of players that we are going to keep in the squad, you keep switching among those players but at the same time the main motive is to win games. When you are put under pressure then that situation is too overwhelming for a lot of people, you don’t know your way out but if you are encountering those situations every now and then and you understand how to win games from different situations, it makes up a mindset for big tournaments, for big games, for big oppositions, and that’s what you start craving for. Then you look forward to big tournaments saying ‘I want to make that impact on this particular tournament where I can seal the game for the team or I can totally dominate the tournament and make it a memorable one for me’.