On the day he strongly backed Mohammed Shami and blasted social media abuse directed at the pacer, India captain Virat Kohli on Saturday acknowledged the need for a sixth bowling option whole adding that Hardik Pandya is fit after a shoulder concern.

Pandya has started bowling in the nets but the skipper didn’t give any assurance that the all-rounder would be bowling against New Zealand but indicated that he himself might roll his arm over if India happen to bowl first.

Watch: Attacking someone over religion is pathetic, says Virat Kohli in support of Mohammed Shami

“It’s very important to have a sixth bowling option – whether through me or Hardik (Pandya). He should have to be fit to be able to bowl one or two overs,” Kohli said on the eve of the New Zealand game during an online interaction.

“Game situation dictates when to use your sixth bowling option. In our last match, if they (Pakistan) batted first, I could also have bowled one or two overs.

“But in the second innings when we needed wickets, we just had to bowl our primary bowlers. It’s not that a team with six-seven bowling options doesn’t lose,” the skipper said.

Kohli confirmed that Pandya was “fine” as far as his shoulder injury was concerned. For another query, he also backed Shardul Thakur to perform any roles assigned to him.

“Hardik is absolutely fine, if you’re talking about the blow on his shoulder,” Kohli said adding that Shardul was also in their “plans”

On Shardul, Kohli said: “He’s (Shardul) definitely a guy who’s in our plans, constantly making a case of for himself. He is definitely someone who can bring a lot of value to the team. What role he plays or where he fits in, that’s something that I cannot obviously talk about right now. But yes, Shardul is someone who’s got great potential and he will add great value to the team,” Kohli added.

Going by the reaction, especially on social media, it feels like this India team is not allowed to lose a game. But every time there’s pressure, your team has shown the capabilities to bounce back, the way players like Shami was cool on social media after the Pakistan game. What is the message like? What makes this Indian team so resolute, be it 36 all out, be it the innings at Headingley, and be it now after this Pakistan game, sort of mastering the match against New Zealand, what makes this team so resolute?

There’s a good reason why we are playing on the field and not a bunch of spineless people on social media that have no courage to actually speak to any individual in person. They hide by their entities and go after people through social media, making fun of people. And that has become a social pandemic in today’s world, which is so unfortunate and so sad to see because this is literally the lowest level of human potential that one can operate at. And that’s how I look at these people.

We, as individuals, understand what we want to do on the field. And the strength of character and mental toughness we have and precisely why we are doing what we are doing on the field and none of these people are even in the vicinity to even imagine to do something like that, they do not have the courage or the spine to do that.

So that is how I see things. And all this drama that’s created on the outside is purely based on people’s frustrations, their lack of self-confidence, their lack of compassion.

And hence, they find it so amusing to go after people. So we as a group understand how we need to stick together, how we need to back individuals, how we need to focus on our strengths, and whether people on the outside portrayed being the fact that India cannot afford to lose a game, that’s none of our business because we play the sport and we understand exactly how the sport goes.

So how people think on the outside has no value whatsoever within our group. We’ve never focused on it. We will never focus on it going forward either because, look, as I said last time as well, people do not understand what it takes to do the job on the field at the international level.

And we’re not going to go around and just announcing to everyone what we do and how we do it. We just carry on doing the business that we are supposed to do, and if a game goes off, you take the learnings from it and move forward.

Not one game is more important than the other. Every game of cricket is as important and so will be the case in the next game as well.

Can you confirm the fitness status of Hardik and whether the team is tempted to tweak combinations a little bit?

Hardik is fine, if you’re talking about the blow on the shoulder, he’s absolutely fine.

Where do you see Shardul fitting into India’s combinations? Do you see him as a run option for Hardik or even as one of the front three fast bowling slots considering he’s bowled across phases in recent IPL and even picked 16 wickets in the UAE league?

He’s definitely a guy who’s in our plans, constantly making a case for himself. And he’s definitely someone that can bring a lot of value to the team. Now what role he plays or where he fits in, that’s something that I cannot obviously talk about right now. But Shardul is someone who has great potential and he will add great value to the team.

How do you assess Bhuvi’s performance in IPL, and the first game against Afghanistan, like, what do you make how he’s shaping up and how he’s doing?

I don’t want to single out any individuals. I think as a bowling group we failed to pick up wickets. And we understand that can happen in the sport. It’s not a guarantee that every time you take the field you won’t be able to pick up wickets. These are the same guys that have been doing the job for us for a long period of time. We understand how things went and where they went wrong.

And we totally accept and know that we got outplayed by the opposition thoroughly and you need to accept that. You need to accept that as a professional cricket team, without any ego, without any excuses whatsoever. We have given none. And we will not give any excuses moving forward either. And hence I’m saying I’ll not single out individuals. We lost as a team, and that’s exactly what we believe in and that exactly was the case in the previous game.

Just before you, when Trent had his PC, he said he’s looking to mirror what Shaheen did against you guys the last game. So knowing that he’s able to get the ball to swing early on, and as a batting unit how do you see it, because obviously in the powerplay you are looking to score some runs. So how does the balance part come in?

Yeah, I mean, we obviously will come up against some quality bowlers all around the world in this competition, and hence the intensity and the level at which this competition operates is very, very different.

So we know that. We played against these individuals for a long period of time. It’s not something out of the ordinary that’s going to come our way. And it all depends on how we take the field mentally and how we counter that.

If Trent says he wants to replicate what he did, what Shaheen did against us, obviously he’s motivated to do so and we have to be motivated to counter that and try to put pressure on him and the other bowlers as well. That’s how basically the game goes anyway.

We played against all these bowlers for a long period of time. And we understand exactly what we need to do. All that matters now is, when we step onto the field, what kind of mental frame we’re in. I feel absolutely confident hitting that ball fairly and not thinking about any other scenarios, I think that’s key to batting in high-pressure situations and it’s something that we’re looking forward to execute as a team.

Is toss becoming too big a factor because of the dew around?

It will continue to be a big factor. That’s the nature of this tournament. You can look at this situation in two ways. Either you can bank too much on the toss or you can challenge yourself as a team to say, okay, even if we lose the toss, we’re good enough to bowl or bat in any conditions. And that should be the attitude because you don’t have time in the shortest format of the game to think too much about what happened at the toss. The game goes away from you pretty quickly in two or three overs in the whole course of the game, as we saw in the last game as well.

So for us our only focus is how those 11 individuals are placed mentally and how we’re looking to approach this game.

It’s been a long break for us. It’s been a lot of time waiting and just doing nothing, really, for us as a team. Now we’re just itching to go back on the park and be competing again and look to correct the things that didn’t happen well in the first game.

Just Jasprit Bumrah has been a tremendous performer for the team over the last few years. Do you feel the team is overdependent on him every time he takes the field; the team is looking to him for taking wickets? And the second thing is the way Mohammed Shami was attacked in social media over his religion after the Pakistan match. As a captain, how are you backing him up?

Look, Jasprit is obviously the best all-format bowler in the world. That’s why there’s precisely so much expectation on him, not just from people on the outside, but himself as well. He takes a lot of pride in that. We’re not at all bothered about how much expectations he takes.

On the outside, it doesn’t matter, honestly. All the other bowlers we believe are good enough to pick us wickets and in the last game, including just Jasprit Bumrah not able to pick up wickets. And hence, I said as a unit we did not execute the plans that we wanted to and the opposition also did not allow us to come into the game as a batting unit and as a bowling unit.

So it’s not a given that that will happen again and again. We are quality cricketers. We know what we need to do. And when we execute on our day, we can beat any team convincingly anywhere in the world. And we’ve shown that time and time again.

On the second part, as I rightly mentioned before, to me, attacking someone over their religion is the most, I would say, pathetic thing that a human being can do. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion and what they feel about certain situations. But I personally have never ever even thought of discriminating anyone over their religion. And that is a very sacred and a personal thing to every human being and that should be left there.

So as I said, people take out their frustrations because they obviously have no understanding of what we do as individuals.

They have no understanding of how much effort we put on the field. They have no understanding of the fact that someone like Mohammed Shami has won India N number of matches in the last few years. And he’s been our primary bowler with Jasprit Bumrah, when it comes to making an impact in games. And in Test cricket you see him run in to bowl. If people can overlook that and his passion for the country, honestly I don’t even want to waste one minute of my life to give any attention to those people and neither does Shami and neither does anyone else on the team.

We stand by him fully. We’re backing him 200 percent. And all those who have attacked him can come with more force if they want to. Our brotherhood and friendship within the team, nothing can be shaken. And I can guarantee you as the captain of the team that we have built a culture where these things will not even infiltrate into this environment .0001 percent. And that’s an absolute guarantee from my side.

Video and transcript courtesy: ICC Business Corporation FZ LLC 2020 via Online Media Zone.

With PTI and ICC inputs