Fresh from an epochal Test series victory, skipper Kohli outlines his vision for Indian cricket, the road taken so far, and the main protagonists in the transformation, in an interview with bcci.tv
On the road the team has travelled in the last four years
In 2014 when we were doing a chat in Sydney, we spoke about how we wanted to play fearless cricket and just to bring that into the team environment was something which was very crucial. So I think we stuck to our belief as a team over the last four years. Instead of all the ups and downs, the one thing that remained was the fearlessness and belief of the side where everyone wanted to go for results and not necessarily care about personal performances. I think we have come a long way in getting it together and the success that we have had away from home is testimony of that. We have the results to back our belief which is very crucial for any team.
We have come a long way in the last four years. But this is just the beginning of that journey that we are not one-season wonders, we are not a team that does well in one calendar year. We can do well consistently over the next few years and that is our main aim.
On team culture and building a team
You first need to build a culture for the team to follow and the team starts playing to protect the culture that has been built by the efforts of everyone over so many years. So our main focus was to create that fearlessness and create that environment where guys could just walk in and make performances which someone who is 30 or 40 Test matches old is supposed to do. Now if you see the guys who walk in are fearless, they don’t worry about the occasion, how big it is. They just come in and believe they can perform and that is the environment we wanted to create.
On getting different personalities to believe in the vision
Intensity has very different meanings for everyone. A Pujara is as intense in the mind as me, but he does not show it and that is his personality. A Jinx (Rahane) does not show it because that is his personality, a Shami may not show it. Bumrah might see a little bit more, and Ishant you might see a little bit more. But everyone is intense in their minds because the culture that is laid out is that nobody remembers individual performances. It is a team game and if you win as a team, you are remembered as a team.
We only motivate people as the Indian cricket team. It teaches people so many things to work together. And not be worried about their own performances. That is something the whole team has embraced.
They have understood that they are not asked to be like someone but they have to be the best of themselves.
On his leadership style
I don’t like to say things I cannot do myself. That is not my personality. I speak a lot to the team because I feel that once the real emotion and passion of the game comes out, you can do special things. If you are too practical all the time, I think that special unbelievable performance where no one is giving you a chance is very hard to come by.
But I think in times where you are on top or the game is in balance is the time you need to be practical and tactically spot on as well. But come crunch situations, I am always ready to talk to the team. I am always willing and ready to throw myself around and say to the boys that this is what is expected out of everyone because this is what Team India needs and not me. Sometimes you have to bring that emotion out pride out of playing for India and you see that the body starts reacting in a different way, you find that 10 per cent energy more in difficult situations.
On the fast bowling attack
I think more than anything else it is the personality of all these guys that has made all the difference. Collectively, they wanted to be the best bowling attack in the world. That speaks volumes of the hunger and the belief and the desperation they have to play Test cricket for India. And Shami, Bumrah and Ishant have been outstanding, they have achieved something that has never been done in Indian cricket. They never wanted to go for any records, they just wanted to perform for the team. They have set a benchmark for themselves and for the guys coming in as well that if you don’t have the desperation and the intent you have like these guys, you probably don’t have a chance to play Test cricket for India.
On Pujara’s perseverance
Pujara is one guy who is very sure of his own ability. He never questioned any of the calls that the team management took. He took it in his stride and realised himself that whatever feedback was given to him by the management, there were things that he himself wanted to work on.
And the way he has accepted things to come back from the England series and play like that, and to come to Australia after having an okay series the last time we came here, and to bat the way he has, speaks volumes of his own conviction about his game.
I think the patience and the character he has shown is something we all can learn from. And we definitely learn from, and we communicate that to him on a daily basis. “How to be patient?” Pujara teaches us that.
At times, we all feel like being flamboyant. But when you see this guy, happy being in the zone, he doesn’t care about what’s being said or done, he just goes about his business. He has such a conviction about doing just that, that I feel is very inspiring for all of us.
On Ravi Shastri’s impact on the team
Ever since 2014, I think he is one person who has given me honest feedback, always. And whenever things were required to be altered. I remember when we sat down in England (after the first Test), he told me, because I had scored a Test century and fifty in the same game, ‘As far as batting is concerned, I am not going to discuss anything with you now because you’ve done something which I am proud of, which everyone is proud of, but as captain, we need to start thinking about how to get the best out of this team and how to tactically be spot on.’ And that really hit me because I felt like there is so much more to captaincy than what you sometimes think.
And just to be able to get feedback from a person who makes you feel like the small things or the small contribution are much bigger in the scheme of things than you going out and scoring runs. It’s how you speak to the players, how you motivate the team, take decisions in crunch situations, how you are aware where the game is heading. So, he is one person, because he’s done so much commentary and he’s seen the game so much and he’s played so much himself, just watching the game he knows where the game is heading.
Getting feedback from him constantly has been the biggest help for me. In terms of moulding my own personality to captaincy, he’s never tried to change me just to be able to fit into the captaincy mould. He’s been the most amazing support for the team and someone who’s backed the team through and through. But at the same time, he’s been honest and open and laid out things that need to be improved. I think he’s struck the perfect balance for this team and he’s the one person who, when we were No 7 in 2014, he was there. The transition started under him and we started feeding off that mindset and started bringing that in. It was his vision first to be fearless and play a certain brand of cricket for which he deserves a lot of credit.
On the losses in South Africa and England
There are always things that you feel like you could have done differently or you could have improved on. From that point of view, I think, the losses that we had in England are something that we really as a team would have wanted to change. But, having said that, maybe things are supposed to happen a certain way. This was always meant to be and we were meant to go through those hard yards and those tough times to eventually come to Australia and win for the first time. You eventually take everything in your stride, but again, you learn from your mistakes.
What does ‘intent’ meant to you?
You can have intent while batting because you know you only have once chance. You know you can have intent while bowling because if you bowl at 50% you can get injured. So there’s always a fear attached to both those skills; because you are trying to protect your wicket, or you are trying not to get hit or you are trying to protect your body in a certain manner so you have to be at the top of your game.
But if you ask me the meaning of intent, and playing for your country and the pride of playing for your country, it is standing in the field and trying to stop one run, standing in the field and thinking how can I stop one run for the team. And this ball is the event that the team needs to win. Because I follow that every ball, it’s not comfortable for a lot of people to see, because people are expecting some mellow moments. In my mind, I want the team to win every ball of the Test match, and for that I’ll put my body on the line, my passion will be seen on the screen, and I will do anything it takes to help the team. I am pretty happy being the way I am. If people don’t find that comfortable, I understand that. but not everyone is the same.
What is your vision for Team India?
Vision is for India to be a superpower in Test cricket, a very very strong side in Test cricket in the days to come. If Indian cricket respects Test cricket and Indian players respect Test cricket, Test cricket will stay at the top because of the fan base we have all over the world. If we focus too much on shorter formats, yes they are important, but if we solely look at them as an escape or an excuse to not be in the kinds of situations Test cricket presents to you, then it may start becoming a mental problem for cricketers coming up. As long as you are willing to wake up every morning for five days and do the hard yards and go to the dirty work, if you are willing to bat for two hours and not score a run, I think that is what people should prepare, that is what people should look forward to.