Virat Kohli has said that the Indian team has evolved considerably since their disappointing tour to New Zealand in 2014. The Indian skipper said the team has composed themselves far more than the squad that had travelled to these parts then. In 2014, India failed to win anything across the two Tests and five ODIs in New Zealand, but Kohli said the current lot has it in them to chase down a 300-plus score and not be fazed by the occasion.
“If you see the last three years or so, we have really evolved as a batting group,” Kohli said on the eve of the opening ODI in Napier. “We are more sure and more aware of our abilities, and we are ready to counter all the things that are going to be thrown at us.”
“New Zealand always have fields that make the game high-scoring. The key is to not panic too much in the field when you see 300 being posted regularly. You just have to back yourself to get those runs, and set a big target when you’re batting first.
“The last time we played (here), we probably didn’t have that kind of composure, to be relaxed in the field in terms of chasing close to 300. We take that as a challenge and we’re looking forward to doing what we did in Australia – believing in our abilities and giving in a balanced performance every time we step on the field.”
India come to the tour of New Zealand on a high of a historic Test and ODI series win in Australia where they ended a 71 year wait for a series win Down Under before triumphing in the ODIs from a match down. At the start, the T20I series had finished 1-1 with one match suspended.
The last time these two met was in India where Kohli’s men clinched a closely-fought series 2-1. “The fact that they are the No.3 ranked team in the world speaks about their consistency over the last couple of years,” Kohli said.
“We played them in India as well and we got beaten in Mumbai. All the games were competitive, and we felt they had a really good balance in their team – a great mix of youth and experience – and the bowling attack is experienced and not that old. Tim (Southee), Trent (Boult) all these guys are experienced and they have that energy and the buzz around them all the time.”
Moving to the Kiwi batting, they are led by two stalwarts of the modern game in captain Kane Williamson, and the experienced and in-form middle-order bat Ross Taylor.
“He’s (Williamson) one of the best players in the world. When he is on song, he is the most attractive to watch,” said Kohli. “Kane is always going to be a very big factor but at the same time Rosco [Ross Taylor] and all the other guys as well – you can’t take anyone lightly.
“Their batting usually revolves around Kane and Ross, and the other guys bat around them. We are aware of that and we are working on our plans.”
The limited overs series in New Zealand will be India’s last overseas assignment before the Cricket World Cup in the United Kingdom. Kohli acknowledged it would serve as preparation for the tournament, but maintained winning matches was always priority.
“Look winning is always going to be a very important factor but the main thing is not to be desperate at this stage. There needs to be a good atmosphere in the change room, there needs to be calmness and collective effort towards just refining ourselves as a team approaching the World Cup.”
“There needs to be a collective effort towards refining ourselves as a team, approaching the World Cup,” Kohli said. “And if we need to try out a few players here and there to see how they react in different situations or different positions in the team, we are open to do that as well.
“We don’t want to be too rigid because you have to flexible in your mind and in your preparation to be able to be competitive in a big tournament like the World Cup.”
Speaking about his own team composition, Kohli said the team management are forced into playing a third seamer with Hardik Pandya unavailable due to suspension for his sexist comments on ‘Koffee with Karan’. Rookies Khaleel Ahmed and Mohammed Siraj both went for runs against Australia in the first two ODIs before Pandya’s replacement Vijay Shankar bowled a steady spell of six overs in the series decider in Melbourne.
When asked if there can be an ideal bowling combination, the skipper said: “Depends on the all-rounder to be honest. If you see the strongest sides in the world, they have two all-rounders at the least, some sides have three, so that gives you a lot of bowling options.”
“Only if someone like a Vijay Shankar or a Hardik doesn’t play, then (only) three fast bowlers makes sense. Because if an all-rounder can chip in with a few overs of seam up, then you don’t necessarily need a guy bowling 140kmph as the third bowler along with the two fast bowlers,” Kohli said.
Kohli, in a very subtle yet strong manner, put across his point about Hardik’s absence from the side. “So whether it’s me backing three bowlers or during Asia Cup, every time it happened when Hardik wasn’t available. We have had to play three fast bowlers. So every time, the all-rounder is there, you are not thinking about a third fast bowler unless you are playing in conditions which are totally against spin bowling,” the skipper said.
Kohli indicated that a few players could be tried here and there, raising hopes of young Shubman Gill getting an opportunity during the series. “Also to try a few players here and there and see how they react to different situations or different positions in the team. We are open to doing that as well.
“You don’t want to be too rigid because you want to be flexible in your mind and in your preparation to be able to competitive during a big tournament like the World Cup,” the skipper explained.
“I think we need a good balance of both even if we back a few players to play at some stage, the idea is still to win the games and not just think of it as an experiment,” he set priorities right.
Kohli says he doesn’t ‘feed off’ booing anymore
On the eve of the first ODI of the five-match series against New Zealand, there was a question for him on booing. “Well that used to happen in the middle phase of my career. It all started in 2014-15 series (in Australia). So I used to feed off those things then as I needed to boost myself up but now being the captain of the team, I really don’t need to focus on those things,” Kohli said.
“I have a greater responsibility which I understand as it’s an honour to play for the country. I necessarily don’t need the crowd to be on my side or against my side as I have to go out there and do my responsibilities whether there are 1 person or 50,000 people inside the ground, I will have to do my job.
“That’s the mindset that I have been in in the last two or three years. All these things are not what I think about when I go out there to bat,” the India skipper said.