Rather than the challenges that lay ahead, India’s pre-departure press conference largely focused on the new — or rather the old — coaching set-up.
In a way, it reflects poorly on the standard of the current Sri Lankan team, that huffed and puffed to beat Zimbabwe in a one-off Test at home after losing the one-day series. But the focus on the men who will be on the sidelines over the next month and a half is only expected after the long-drawn saga of the last couple of months.
Having got the coaching team of his choice, skipper Virat Kohli expects to reap the rewards of the understanding developed over a three-year period.
“I don’t think I need to understand anything new in this scenario. We have worked before and we are aware of what is expected and what is going to click. We have worked together before, so I don’t think we will take time to understand,” Kohli said in Mumbai before leaving for the island nation.
“I think understanding and communication is something that works in every walk of life and the dressing room environment is nothing different. You need to have all those aspects for any relationship to work in life and it not just confined to cricket. It is as simple as that, the co-ordination and communication…”
After previous head coach Anil Kumble stepped down due to “untenable” differences with the captain, and Kohli’s favourable equations with Ravi Shastri well known, the onus now shifts to the captain to deliver results on the field. But Kohli stressed on the need to maintain focus on the job at hand.
“You only have to look at the series you are going to play ahead of you. If you think of all these external factors, it is very similar to you going out to bat and thinking what if I get out. It can happen in any scenario and move forward.”
Shastri has been in the spotlight for various reasons over the past several weeks, and it says volumes about the controversy surrounding the Indian team’s coaching job that the former Team Director, now averse to hyperbole, said that “I have matured since I last went to Sri Lanka and I have matured immensely in the last two weeks.”
The former all-rounder believes it was time the focus shifted from the coach, who come for a limited tenure, to the team.
“Mine will be a refresh button that will be pushed, I carry on from where I left. I don’t come with any baggage. The team has done exceedingly well over three years and they are the people who deserve the credit more than anyone else.
“These Ravi Shastris, Anil Kumbles will come and go. The fabric of Indian cricket will remain and the credit should go to everyone who has participated in the Indian team in the last three years. If they are number one today (in Tests), it is the efforts they have put in over the three year period and they deserve the credit. People like us will come and go.”
The coach sees his job to shield the players from all external factors that rear their heads from time and can throw the team off its game.
“My job is to put every player in a frame of mind only about his role and the team that he is playing for and of course the opposition which we always respect and that is his job… period.”
Shastri was also forced to defend his insistence on old friend Bharat Arun as bowling coach, and claimed the latter returns to the set-up with impeccable credentials. He said Arun knew the players better than he himself did.
“There is a track record. 15 years his life has been coaching. You look at that track record, it has been outstanding, right from junior level to ‘A’ teams to Indian junior World Cup teams he has been part of. He knows these boys better than I do because he has been in the system for the last 15 years. You look at the last World Cup, India took 77 out of 80 wickets,” Shastri said.
“If Bharat Arun’s name was someone else who had played a lot of Test matches, you would have put him on the top of the tree. So I don’t need to elaborate too much on what he is good at, what are his strengths. It is there for everyone to see.”
The tour of Sri Lanka two years ago was, in many ways, the making of the current Indian team. It was very early in Kohli’s tenure as Test skipper – MS Dhoni was still the captain in shorter formats. India had lost away series in England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and lost the first Test in Sri Lanka as well, from a position of strength, before rebounding to win the next two to seal the series. Kohli believes the winning mindset of the team has its roots in that come-from-behind triumph.
“I think that tour for us was a landmark tour. If you look at the average age of that team a couple of years back, obviously the players have matured from then on, it’s been 24 months. That tour for us was a sort of start of the belief system that we can win away from home and we do have the side required to win away from home,” he said.
The skipper spoke about the “culture” that inculcates a winning habit in the dressing room. “The mindset immediately was to try and win the series. Losing the first Test was a shock to us but the way we bounced back was only because of the team culture that was created at that stage where even the less experienced players, if you compared us to Sri Lanka, the number of Tests was not even close. We showed more belief in our abilities that we could win from any situation and that really turned our mindset around. From then on, you can see the results we have had so far. We have an away series coming up and same mindset would apply now what we started way back in 2015.”