Whether the country’s cricket authorities have anything to do with the public dealings of skipper Virat Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri or it’s the effect of the team’s performance in the South Africa and England, the two are a lot mellowed now.
They were not exactly milk and honey talking to the media, though they were quite restrained on the eve of the India team’s departure for Australia. They made their customary statements like hoping to become the first team to win a series Down Under and that there’is no reason why they can’t win if they perform as a team.
Don’t forget, despite their 1-2 defeat in South Africa and 1-4 in England, India are still the No.1 Test side in the world. Kohli and his team will feel they are truly the world’s best side by right if they can win in Australia.
Kohli also realises that he need not exhibit his anger to psyche himself or the side up after the disapproval rating he received both in South Africa and in England when he seemed to lose his cool or behave in a way that’s not expected of a captain – even if others are not measuring up to the high standards the International Cricket Council has set.
He made it clear that he would like to play straight without getting into arguments on the field, but if the opponents want it that way, he wouldn’t mind playing the Australian way.
He was firm in saying that “if they want to play in a certain way, we will reciprocate in that way, that’s how the game of cricket goes”, adding that he would like to play like the Australians, hard and fair.
As for his own behaviour on the field, Kohli is clear about his approach and said it without a trace of arrogance seen not long ago: “I have enough belief in my ability to play without a reason to pump myself up. Those were very immature things that I needed to feed on in early days of my career.”
In fact, he did not take on the mediapersons asking what they thought of the team’s performance or what would be the best eleven in the reporter’s view.
Kohli can still look at his own performance as captain with a degree of satisfaction when his counterparts elsewhere are under pressure to keep their teams under check or face the consequences.
As a batsman, he is clearly head and shoulders above all other international batsmen in all formats of the game, in Tests in particular, having toted up 1,063 runs at an average of a shade less than 60.
In shorter formats, the challenge is from not anyone else but his own deputy and opening batsman Rohit Sharma, who smashes record after record practically every time he goes out to bat.
Finally, there is the stock question from the mediapersons, that Kohli dominates the team management and Ravi Shastri is essentially a ‘yes man’. This could have made him snap, but he did not. He handled the situation deftly.
All that Kohli can do to inspire is to ask his teammates to stick around with him. That still means pressure on him.
He cannot ask his bowlers to do everything to win matches or even contribute with the bat lower down as has been happening for a couple of years now. Look at the number of hundreds scored by Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja and Hardik Pandya – not to speak of Rishab Pant.
Ideally, at least one top-order batsman must play a big knock to make things easier for the middle and lower-order batsmen. If in every innings two batsmen can get going and others can play around them, it can safely give the team a 400-plus score. In Australia in the past, even 400-plus first-innings scores were not adequate to win matches.
To expect Kohli to reproduce the form he showed four years ago when he scored 692 runs, averaging a staggering 86.5 is not fair. He is right: Individual landmarks do contribute to the team’s growth, but they have to pool their resources in a consistent manner.
He used a complex, highfalutin sentence to explain his vision: “It’s up to the individuals to take ownership of that responsibility and the things that are explained, that are laid out as expectations from team culture point of view. That can only be achieved when individuals go and work on those things.”
Finally, he amplified Shastri’s theory, that yes, a lot of things went wrong in England, but to be honest, there was not much that went wrong!
“Whatever was not right was very extreme also. We played good cricket, but the mistakes were also very extreme, that’s why we lost that many number of games rather than winning those moments and winning the games.”
Everyone agrees, the points Kohli raised or answered have to be corrected this time around. Will they?