Virat Kohli is riding the crest of a run-wave like few others. He’s already got 844 runs on India’s tour of South Africa, with a record-breaking 558 of them coming in the six-match One-Day International series that concluded on Friday (February 16) at the SuperSport Park in Centurion. That not only made Kohli the first man to breach the 500-run barrier in a bilateral ODI series, it also gave India a 5-1 series win, among their finest ever, and solidified their position at the top of the ICC ODI rankings, with the top Test rank already theirs.
In the final ODI, Kohli hit 129 not out off just 96 balls. However, he said that he wasn’t going to get carried away by the praise.
It was at the same venue that India had lost the second Test, and with it the series, going 2-0 down a month ago. They fought back to make it a 2-1 result with a stirring win at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, but that Centurion Test was followed by a tetchy interaction with the media, in which Kohli lost his cool.
Clearly carrying the memory, perhaps the ire, at that interaction, Kohli pointedly said that he wasn’t about to enter “a dreamland” or praise himself for his part in the team’s fantastic result.
“One month back we were a very bad team. Now we’ve been asked these questions,” said Kohli, giving some vein to dramatic flair when asked if this was the most significant bilateral series win for India.
“We haven’t changed our mindset. We have just focused on our cricket. I don’t want to get lost in such thoughts – whether this is the biggest win or no,” he continued. “Our work is to play the game, strive hard, our work is to perform and try to win every match. Now whether this is the biggest win or no, whoever wants to analyse or write will do so. For us as a team, our only motive is to give 120 percent effort, strive hard in practice and keep our mindset good on every day of the tour and prepare so well that we can go and win. We have achieved that this series and that gives us most happiness. Creating these tags or headlines is not our work. We just wanted to play cricket which we have executed perfectly this series.”
When asked later to assess his innings in his own words, he responded with: “Look as I said, I’m not going to give in to this. I know for a fact that 90 percent of the people didn’t give us a chance after two Tests. I was sitting in the same room giving a press conference. So we understand where we’ve come from. I’m not going to live in a dreamland right now and accept all the praise and sit here and feel good about this, because it doesn’t matter to me. Honestly it doesn’t. It didn’t matter when we were 2-0 down, it doesn’t matter when we’re 5-1 up. Because what matters is the respect in the change-room. What matters is what the management thinks about me, what I think about the players and what the players think about me. That’s all that matters to me. These things do not matter.
“I am not competing with anyone at all. If anything, I only look to help my team in any way I can. And during the course of that, I have mentioned that if you are thinking about the team, special things happen. But if you are thinking about being ahead of someone else then you will be found out very soon by this game. You are compromising on what the team needs as well. As I said I don’t want any tags, I don’t want any headlines, I just go out there and do my job, it is up to the people to write what they write.”
“I know the headlines change from day in and day out. Tomorrow I play a bad shot and get out for zero everyone will conveniently do what they want to do,” he added. “As I said, it’s not my job to say anything about what I do. Yes, if I make a mistake I will come here and accept it. I’ve never been one to give excuses and will remain like that. But I’m never one to come here and praise myself. I can never do that because as I said, this is a job for me. I’m not doing anyone a favour. I’m representing the country, it’s an honour for me and I’m just stepping out to do my job.”
It was a somewhat strange tone to adopt for the skipper of a historic series win, India’s first on South African soil, with touchiness the more dominant emotion than joy at the victory.
When asked if he thought of himself as the best all-format batsman in the world at the moment, Kohli reiterated that he was in the middle to do a job, and could do away with the tags.
“Look I will be very honest with you, at this stage, I don’t feel like competing with anyone,” he said. “It’s all about how I prepare before the game and what my work ethics are and how I am feeling on game-day. My only motivation is to get into that frame of mind. I am not competing with anyone at all. If anything, I only look to help my team in any way I can. And during the course of that, I have mentioned that if you are thinking about the team, special things happen. But if you are thinking about being ahead of someone else then you will be found out very soon by this game. You are compromising on what the team needs as well. As I said I don’t want any tags, I don’t want any headlines, I just go out there and do my job, it is up to the people to write what they write, I don’t want to be called anything, it’s my job. I am supposed to do what I am doing and I am not doing anyone a favour as I said, so just want to be in this zone of working as hard as I can and trying to do the best for the team. Everyone is doing a job, they have the freedom to write and say what they want but it’s very important that I don’t change with that because my zone is very simple, it is simply doing hard work and performing for the team.”
“I know for a fact that 90 percent of the people didn’t give us a chance after two Tests. I was sitting in the same room giving a press conference. So we understand where we’ve come from. I’m not going to live in a dreamland right now and accept all the praise and sit here and feel good about this, because it doesn’t matter to me. Honestly it doesn’t. It didn’t matter when we were 2-0 down, it doesn’t matter when we’re 5-1 up.”
Kohli’s insistence on treating even the most innocuous questions with repeated variants of ‘I’m just doing my job, people can comment what they want’ was in contrast to his expansive self after the third ODI of the series in Cape Town, in which he had hit 160 not out, possibly the best innings of the series. He had spoken then of embracing the intensity, following a gruelling training regimen because he wanted to play at a similar level even five years down the line, and about the challenges of that particular innings where he batted for the longest duration of any of his ODI knocks.
Kohli seemed to have not taken kindly to some of India’s recent wins – at home in bilateral series and on their tour of Sri Lanka away – being classed as relatively easier.
“We had the same mindset when we played in Sri Lanka recently, we had the same mindset when we beat Australia. When we beat Sri Lanka 9-0, everyone said it’s a weak team. When we beat Australia, they still said Australia is not a good ODI side,” he said. “Then we beat New Zealand, then we beat Sri Lanka again, and we’ve beaten South Africa here again. So the focus has always been on the team.
“It doesn’t matter who is playing, who is not playing,” he added referencing the fact that South Africa were without several key personnel throughout the series. “Whether the team is what it is supposed to be or it’s not, it’s not in our hands and it’s none of our concern. We want to take the best team as far as we can on the field, and have the best mindset to perform every given day that we represent our country. That remains our mindset regardless of what happens. The ups and downs will always be there, but the intensity and the respect and the mood in the change-room, and the mindset to deliver for the team accepting every situation as it comes has been the hallmark of this team. So regardless of what the opposition is like, we always go out there and look to embrace the things that are presented to us, and put up our performances accordingly.”
On the count of embracing conditions as they were, Kohli was spot on. The spinning equivalent of some of the pitches India have had to encounter on tour would have caused eyebrows to hit ceilings if they had been served up in India, but in no public interaction has any Indian team or support staff member grumbled. They have taken the challenge head on, and delivered results. They have competed in a Test series whose result could easily have been 2-1 in their favour with slight changes, and been overwhelming in the ODIs.
Now, they only need their captain to also soak in the enjoyment of that achievement.