England have been scoring runs for fun in their ongoing One-Day International series against Australia, but Virat Kohli refused to term it a trend, pointing to the conditions prevalent in England as the reason for the slew of tall scores posted by the host nation.
Speaking in New Delhi on Friday (June 22) ahead of the 80-day tour of Ireland and England, the Indian skipper said, “I don’t think it’s a trend. We know it’s one place where the pitches behave differently at different times of the year. This is supposed to be the hottest and driest phase that we are going to enter.
“I have read a lot of things about two new balls and all those sorts of things,” Kohli said, alluding to Sachin Tendulkar’s opinion that the practice of one new ball at each end should be done away with in 50-over cricket. “I agree it’s brutal for the bowlers. There is hardly any room for attacking cricket left from the bowlers’ point of view if you don’t provide pitches that assist them with the new ball. I have played ODI cricket when only one new ball was allowed and the reverse swing used to be a massive factor in the latter half of the innings.
“As a batsman, I think it as more challenging. Nowadays, I honestly feel it’s very, very difficult for the bowlers with two new balls. If the pitch is flat, then they literally have no way out unless you have wrist-spinners in your side who can do the job in the middle overs. Not every side has that cushion, so they find it difficult. Probably we have wrist-spinners, that’s why we haven’t felt that factor, but I am sure it’s very difficult for bowlers who cannot get purchase when the ball is nice and hard.”
India will begin their tour with two Twenty20 Internationals in Ireland, followed by three T20Is and as many ODIs in England leading in to the five-Test series in Old Blighty. Ravi Shastri, the head coach, said the schedule was as perfect as could be imagined. “I think it’s ideal from the preparation point of view,” the former India captain noted. “The boys will get to play T20Is, then ODIs. By the time the first Test starts, it will be one month. The first T20I is on 27th (June) and the first Test is on August 1. So there is enough time to acclimatise.”
Shastri on yo-yo test omissions
You have a certain ability but if you are fit, you can enhance that ability. That’s why we emphasise on this yo-yo thing. Whoever thinks it’s a one-off, he is sadly mistaken. He can take a walk. The philosophy is simple. You pass, you play. You fail, you sail.
On their last tour of England, India squandered a 1-0 lead after the second Test to surrender the series 3-1 in 2014, and questions over the Indian batsmen’s proficiency against the moving ball were inevitable.
“It’s not only the Indian players, swing can trouble any batsman in the world and it has done that too,” Kohli countered. “If swing or seam doesn’t trouble other players, then we wouldn’t have been able to take even a single wicket in foreign conditions, or the fast bowlers won’t even come into play. If you look at the South Africa series (which India lost 1-2 at the start of the year), we took 20 wickets in every Test. How many of those were taken by the spinners? So if you bowl well, you can trouble the other team as well.
“Last time we played, we felt, collectively as a team, we didn’t perform well in all the three departments,” Kohli added. “That’s why as a batting unit, you feel there is more pressure on you, or the bowlers feel the pressure because the batsmen didn’t do well. But if both things click together, whether it’s swing, seam, bounce or turn, if the team has momentum, every condition looks easy. But if you don’t have momentum, you will find it difficult even on a flat pitch. Even a straight ball seems to be swinging. But yes, the conditions are different and we need to respect that. But as Ravi bhai said, we have a lot of time. By the time, the Test series arrives, we would be so comfortable that it won’t even feel like an away series. I think that’s the benefit of having time that you get comfortable mentally. And that’s the biggest factor. If you are mentally at ease, it reflects in your performance.”
Kohli himself had an underwhelming Test series four years back, making just 134 runs and often found out by James Anderson, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker. “The strategy will be the same as it was during the South Africa tour, the Sri Lanka tour, and when Sri Lanka toured India. The strategy doesn’t change,” he insisted. “Our mindset doesn’t change due to performance or non-performance in one series. That’s the tendency of those who don’t have patience.
“As professional cricketers, if we think like you guys, then there will be a huge problem because we won’t be able to play then. We don’t focus on external things. Our focus is on the field. We never felt any need to do something different neither earlier nor now. We need to play with the mindset to win as we did on the South Africa tour. It’s not about what I or any other player does on the tour. What we do as a team on the tour, that will be our main focus.”
Refusing to be drawn into a debate on his individual goals for the series, Kohli maintained as he often does, “It’s not only my performance. I think if I don’t get runs in any of the games on the tour and someone else is getting 100 or 75, 80 every game, we still win. It’s not that if I score runs, 100 becomes 200. It’s the same score. There is no difference as far as I see it. But as captain of the team, I like to put in performances myself and I like to take my team along, my teammates along, motivate them, boost them in any way possible.
“A lot of people have held on to the last tour for too long. I think we had the Champions Trophy in between as well which has totally been forgotten. I don’t think it was in Bangladesh. I was asked this question when we reached England and they asked what you are looking forward to on this tour. I said taking a walk and having a coffee on the street. My thinking is very different when I go on a tour. Literally, I am looking forward to enjoying the country. I am not even thinking of cricket right now because I know if I am in a good zone, then I will play well.
“If I think like how people are thinking on the outside, like I have to do well, I have to do well, things don’t happen. Because I have to go out there and face what’s going to happen. This is another series as far as I am concerned individually. But for us as a team, this is a very exciting time because after what happened in South Africa, we are actually looking forward to playing more difficult Test cricket. That I feel is the best thing that can happen to any side. You don’t want to go to England, saying the Test series is in one month. We want it to be actually sooner. That’s the kind of excitement we take along with us. So is the case with the ODI and T20I team as well. I think it’s just a great phase for the Indian cricket and myself individually, all the players and I think all the people concerned with the Indian cricket should really be excited and be looking forward to enjoying it rather than putting individuals before team which we certainly don’t do. I am certainly very excited to be enjoying this time with the team.”
Shastri added, “As Virat said, in each series, our endeavour is the same. We don’t change strategy just because we are playing another opposition. For us, an opposition is an opponent. Our basics, we would like to improve on that. Which team you rate, you rate a team which is consistent. So our aim is to strive for consistency. The last tour of South Africa was good. The emphasis will be to try and repeat that kind of consistency.”
Reiterating that India were determined to take every series as a home series, Shastri went on, “Every series is important. For us, there is no away. Every game is a home game, because we don’t play the opponent, we play the pitch. Our job is to conquer the pitch wherever we go. It could be Bombay, it could be Delhi, it could be London, it could be Johannesburg.
“It’s 22 yards that we have to try and conquer. And the boys know they will be rated if they adapt to different conditions. The other team has to adapt to those conditions, so do we. So it’s not a question of where you are playing. For us, every game has to be a home game. You see those 22 yards, you have to say how I am going to take 20 wickets on those 22 yards, how I am going to score 350-400. Keep it simple.”
Seeking to draw inspiration from the tour of South Africa where India lost the first two Tests before winning the third game in Johannesburg, Kohli chipped in, “I just want to add to that a little as well. When we were playing the Test series in South Africa, after a couple of Tests, people really thought that we were really outplayed. Then we won the third and the (ODI) series that followed happened. Then people really understood how well we played in that series but we as a team, internally we knew how we had played well and that led to the success in ODIs and T20s as well because we took the confidence into it.
“People on the outside might not be able to see the small things when you are playing a particular Test match or a series. But the point you mentioned about teams not travelling well, I think we are the one side that’s looking forward to going to other countries and playing and I think that makes a massive difference and that showed with the mindset of someone like Jasprit Bumrah, who was bowling 144 (kph) in his last spell of the third Test. That’s where the point of someone’s fitness comes in. When you have people who are hungry, fit and ready, you are not only competing but winning. That’s the difference between getting emotional and letting go of a policy and holding on to it and taking the hard calls and moving ahead with the system. I think all those things have come together nicely. As I said, we are looking forward to play difficult cricket. It can be anywhere, even in India. We are looking forward to playing difficult cricket because we feel that that’s the only way we will be able to test ourselves as a team and to be able to judge ourselves as players.”
The issue of fitness, and the dreaded yo-yo test, has been a major talking point in Indian cricket of late. Sanju Samson was dropped from the ‘A’ side, while Mohammed Shami and Ambati Rayudu have been left out of the senior side, after failing fitness tests earlier this month.
“In my view, it (performance) is the combination of both (skills and fitness),” Shastri said. “You have a certain ability but if you are fit, you can enhance that ability. That’s why we emphasise on this yo-yo thing. Whoever thinks it’s a one-off, he is sadly mistaken. He can take a walk. The philosophy is simple. You pass, you play. You fail, you sail. So this is not going to go away. The captain leads from the front, the selectors are on the same page, the entire team management is on the same page and the boys have responded extremely well.”