A day before the T20 World Cup’s qualification stage begins, India captain Virat Kohli on Saturday shared his thoughts going into what would be his last assignment as India’s T20I captain.
Q) How frustrating was the 2016 semifinal exit as hosts and how much has it spurred you on to go a step higher this time around?
It was quite frustrating to go out in the way that we did, but to a deserving side I thought. West Indies was the best team in the tournament by far, playing the best cricket as a team, I felt and they thoroughly deserved to win. We had a heartbreak in Sri Lanka in 2014 as well where we lost in the finals. And we lost in the semfinals in 2016. That tells us that as far as our T20 cricket is concerned, we have always had a strong side. And now more so than ever because a lot of players from the IPL who have got experience have now come into their roles wonderfully well and are players who can change the game at any stage. We have beaten prominent teams in T20 series in the recent past in very close contests, so we are quite confident heading into the World Cup knowing that we have a strong side. Potentially we could go deep in the tournament and if we end up being in the knockout stage, maybe go one step further this time.
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How pivotal will Dhoni be as mentor?
Yeah, massive experience. He is quite excited with getting back into this environment. He has always been a mentor for all of us. When we were starting our careers, through till the time that he played with the team and now he has the opportunity to continue to do that same work again. Especially for the younger guys who are playing major tournaments at early stages of their career, just experience that he has gained over the years and just having conversations with him around the game, such practical inputs, such intricate details of where the game’s going and how we can improve our game by that one or two per cent which always makes the difference when he is in the leadership role in any team. So we are absolutely delighted to have him back in this envoronment and his presence will certainly boost the morale of the team even further and give us a lot more confidence than we already have as a team.
Is Bhuvneshwar’s form in the IPL an area of concern?
No, not at all. His economy rate still continued to be top-notch, something that he’s always been known for. His experience comes to the fore. If you see the game we played against Sunrisers, and he had to close the game out against AB de Villiers, probably one of the two or three most destructive lower order finishers in the T20 game, explained or spoke volumes of what experience Bhuvi brings on the field. The understanding of hitting the areas according to the dimension of the field and what balls to bowl at what time. Even the fact that he bows length so well and so consistently which is not an easy thing to get away with, especially in T20 cricket is quite an underrated thing. I think his experience and accuracy has always been priceless for the team and he is back to full fitness, which augurs really well for the team. I am sure with the new ball he will get some kind of assistance through the tournament. Whatever little there’s on offer, Bhuvi knows how to make the maximum use out of that.
Is Ashwin’s return a testimony to someone who has always tried to get better and force his way back into the shortest format?
Yes, definitely. The one thing that Ashwin has really improved on his bowling with a lot of courage in white-ball cricket. If you saw the IPL in the last couple of years, he has bowled the difficult overs, he’s bowled against the top players in the IPL, the likes of Polly (Pollard) and power-hitters and not being shy to put the ball in the right areas where spinners can mostly get intimidated by the power-hitters. But Ashwin believed in his skill-sets and we felt like the way he is bowling and his variations and control over pace, again a lot of experience. The guy has played so much international cricket and now when he is at his confident best, these guys can go in there and change the game with their spells. Hence I think Ashwin has been rewarded for reviving his skills altogether. He was a regular for us back in the day, then he fell off a little bit because the wrist spinners were in demand mostly in that middle period. But now the finger spinners with accuracy have come back into the game, so we also have to evolve as a team with the evolving trend. Ash and the likes of Jadeja as well, have been performing brilliantly. The way he’s gone about in the IPL as well, just being a finger-spinner and bowling with a lot of courage, just augurs well for the team. As I said, these guys can also be very consistent and know exactly what to do in what situation.
Is India-Pakistan the top game for an Indian in a World Cup?
You know, I can talk from personal experience. I have honestly never felt so. I have always approached this game as just another game of cricket. I know there’s a lot of hype created around this game, more so with ticket sales and the demands of tickets and right now, the value of those tickets are ridiculously high. That’s all I know. My friends asking me whether there are tickets left, right and centre, and me saying no. It’s probably the only change that I experience from any other game. Apart from that, we make anything extra out of this game. For us, it’s a game of cricket that has to be played in the right way, in the way we know we can. Yes, the environment is different on the outside from the fans’ perspective, it’s definitely louder, definitely more excitement in the air. But apart from that, from the players’ point of view, we stay as professional as we can and always approach this game in the most normal way possible.
What did the 2007 WT20 win do to Indian cricket and your own career?
Huge impact. I would not say unexpected but no one really knew a lot about the T20 tournament, it’d just started a year back. And then, after the win, the emergence of IPL was really something that changed the game completely. But that World Cup, we fondly remember watching keenly, watching this young Indian team achieve things at the world stage. And as I said, everyone thought okay it’s T20 cricket initially but then we understood the impact of a World Cup win a few years down the line when T20 cricket became what it became eventually and what it is today. For a young Indian team to go out there and achieve what they ended up achieving was something very special and very inspirational. We saw a lot of young guys taking the field and making impact performances, so what that did to a youngster like me was give me extra motivation and gave me more belief that I could also go out there and perform at the highest level at a young age. I think that was a remarkable achievement by a young leader leading an even younger team to a World Cup. Very, very happy and exciting memories.
How do you remain so consistent with the bat in a very unforgiving format of the game?
Look, I have always felt that the basics of the game will hold you in good stead in any form you play. And then it’s about adaptability. It’s your ability to look at your game even in the most technical manner and understand how to apply that pattern to different formats. For me, T20 cricket has always been an opportunity to just extend the shots I play in any other format and I could reap the awards by placing the ball in the gaps. I have never been a guy who goes out there and tries to hit the big shots. That’s not my strength. There are guys who specialise in that and that’s their strength. I have always stuck to my strengths and as long as I can keep making an impact for my team and play according to the situation, it’s always driven me forward. When you are playing the situation and you just want to win the game anyhow, you find ways to do it, whether it’s running between the wickets, hitting fours or sixes or whatever it is, you always find a way when you have desire to make your team. So for me, it’s all about adaptation.
How difficult a call it was to leave Chahal out?
It was, it was a challenging call but you know, we have decided to back Rahul Chahar for a reason. He has bowled amazingly well in the last couple of years in the IPL. A guy who bowls with pace, he did really well against Sri Lanka recently. And against England at home as well, he was somoeone who bowled those difficult overs. We believe that heading into this tournament, wickets are gonna get slower and slower, and the guys who probably bowl with a lot more pace as you saw in the latter stages of the tournament were the ones who were able to trouble the batsmen than those who give the ball too much of air. Rahul definitely has those strengths naturally with him as a leg-spinner. He is someone who always attacks the stumps and bowls in areas that potentially can get you wickets at any stage. That is the factor that dipped that balance towards Rahul a little bit. Not taking anything away from Chahal, he’s been brilliant when he’s played for India. This was a tough call and that’s what picking a World Cup squad is always like. You have a limited number of spots in the side and you can’t fit everyone into it.
If Ravi Shastri is moving on and Rahul Dravid is coming in, do you think it’s a perfect opportunity to end what’s been a perfect relationship between you and Ravi Shastri?
Look, our ultimate goal is to win the World Cup. Honestly, I have no idea exactly what’s happening on that front yet. We haven’t had any detailed discussions with anyone yet. But winning the World Cup is definitely our goal is like any other team. But I think what we have been able to create in the last five-six years is beyond titles and tournaments, to be honest. We’ve able to create a culture which I think is going to be lasting a long time where people wanna be the best they can be when they enter the Indian team, the fittest they can be. And that culture we’ve driven with utmost passion and utmost honesty, which we hope will continue to be the case in years to come. But yes, winning an ICC tournament will definitely be a wonderful moment for all of us, for him as coach, for me as captain. It’ll be an amazing achievement and something that we’re obviously motivated for and we’ll give everything we have.