Virat Kohli said Wednesday that he was told by the selection committee at the end of a phone call that he had been replaced as India’s one-day international captain and added that his original decision to step aside from T20I captaincy was well received by the board.
Kohli quit as T20 skipper after the recent World Cup, a decision he announced before the tournament started, but had said that he would like to continue leading in ODIs and Tests. But last week he was removed as ODI captain with India’s cricket board saying it wanted Rohit Sharma to lead in both white-ball formats.
The announcement came in one line at the bottom of a press release by the Board of Control for Cricket in India about the Test squad for the upcoming tour of South Africa.
“I was contacted one and a half hours before the selection meeting on the 8th for the Test series and there was no prior communication to me at all,” Kohli told reporters Wednesday ahead of the team’s departure for South Africa, where they will play three Tests and three ODIs.
“Before ending the call I was told that the five selectors had decided that I would not be the ODI captain, to which I replied, ‘ok fine’,” the 33-year-old said.
Kohli will still captain India in the Tests in South Africa but press reports suggested that he had decided to skip the subsequent ODI series in a huff. But Kohli denied this, telling reporters Wednesday that he “was and am available for selection” and hitting out at sections of the media for “writing lies”.
“I was always keen to play,” he said.
Full text from the press conference:
Lack of warm-up matches ahead of SA tour. What areas will the team be looking to address in the lead-up to the first Test?
As much centre-wicket practice as possible, match simulations... I think those kind of things really help when you play in conditions which are, probably in my opinion, the most challenging for batting because of the pace and bounce on offer and that conditions can be quite tricky with swing as well... we have seen that in South Africa. So as much simulation as we can have... understanding which areas we are hitting the ball in, getting into good shape. And the bowlers as well... with the slips in place, what areas they want to bowl in and to cut down the easy singles and the boundary options. All these things help you get into a good space when you don’t have warm-up games.
Will you be available for the ODI series against South Africa?
I was and I am available for selection... all this time. You should not be asking me this question, honestly. These questions should be asked to those who are writing these stories and their sources. As far as I am concerned, I was always available. I had not had any communication with the BCCI that I want to rest. So there were a few things that came out in the past as well where it was said that I was attending some events or something, which was absolutely not true. All these people who are writing these things and their sources, to me, they are absolutely not credible. I was always keen to play. As I said, the question should be asked to people who have been writing about these things... writing lies. My communication with BCCI has not happened, that I want to rest.
You had earlier spoken about how you wanted to lead the team in the 2023 World Cup. Can you give a clear picture of the communication between you, the selectors and the board?
Whatever was said about the communication that happened during the decision that was made was inaccurate. I was contacted 1.5 hours before the selection committee meeting on the 8th [December] for the Test series and there was no prior communication with me at all since I announced the T20 captaincy decision, up till the 8th of December when I got a call for the selection meeting. The chief selector discussed with me the Test team... to which we both agreed. Before we ended the call, I was told that the five selectors had decided that I won’t be ODI captain to which I replied, ‘Okay, fine’. In the selection call afterwards we discuss it briefly. There was no prior communication. That is what happened.
How much will you miss opener Rohit Sharma’s services in South Africa? He was India’s top run-getter in England...
We will miss his abilities a lot. He has proven in England already that he has really worked his Test game out and the opening partnership was very important for us. With his experience and skill, we will miss his qualities. But having said that, I think it’s an opportunity for someone like Mayank [Agarwal] and KL [Rahul] to step up and solidify that start that we got in the last series. Make sure that the good work is carried on in this series as well.
How do you look at Jadeja’s absence and the role that will play in the combinations India will play?
Well, Jadeja has obviously been a very, very important player for us. He contributes in all three departments of the game, which is invaluable especially in overseas conditions. He will be missed. Having said that, we do have quality in the side to be able to create the best combination possible on the day and still be in positions to win Test matches because we have created that kind of bench strength and environment where people coming in are seizing their chance and making sure the team is helped by their performances. As much as we will miss him, I don’t think that will be a deciding factor in the series or moving forward. He is injured and I wish him a speedy recovery that he comes back soon.
When so much is happening around you or some decisions are going against you. How do you switch off and deal with it? What is your coping mechanism right now?
Well, nothing can derail me from being motivated to play for India. To be prepared for a tour like this and to perform to the best of my abilities, nothing has ever derailed and nothing can derail. Lot of things that happen on the outside are not ideal and not always how one expects them to be. But you have to understand there is only so much you can do as an individual and we have to keep things in the right perspective and do the things that can be done... that are in my control. I am very focussed, I am very mentally prepared and I am very excited to go to South Africa and do the best I can for the team and make the team win.
It is not easy to leave captaincy. Do you feel it will leave a positive impact on your batting?
Well, I can’t comment on whether it will leave a positive impact on my batting or not. I don’t think anyone can predict those things. I have taken a lot of pride is performing as captain for the team. I have done the best that I could. I know that my motivation level to perform for the team will not dip at all. I will always be eager to perform in the same manner. As captain, I have been honest to my responsibilities and done it to the best of my potential. I have been absolutely honest to that job. That is my assessment of my limited-overs captaincy. And the batting, of course, when you have been doing well for a long time at the international level, you know how to perform. Those things can never go away from you. It is just about understanding your role and the situation that you play in.
You had always made it clear that you wanted to be ODI skipper till the 2023 ODI World Cup...
About the T20I captaincy, I first approached the BCCI explaining my point of view, thought process and reasons. And at that point, it was received very well. There was no offence. There was no hesitancy. I was not told to not leave the T20I captaincy rather it was received as a progressive call. In the right direction. I had also communicated that yes, I would like to continue as the skipper in Tests and ODIs unless the office-bearers or the selectors feel I shouldn’t continue. This too was clarified on the call. So my communication with the BCCI was clear from that point on. I had given the option to the officials, that the decision was in their hands if I should continue or not.
India won at Jo’burg in 2018. How inspiring will those memories be ahead of the upcoming Test series?
We can take a lot of motivation from that of course. We won in the toughest conditions of that tour. So that should give us a lot of confidence... if we start off with the right mindset and with confidence and belief, we can definitely stand up to any challenge that comes our way. South Africa in one place where we have not won a series yet, so we are very motivated to do that and that mindset is always to go out there in any country and win the series. We don’t think of winning a Test match here and there and we will do our absolute best to make sure we keep contributing towards the cause and as you rightly said, we can take inspiration and belief from that win on the last tour.
It was probably the tour of South Africa that became the springboard for India to dominate in all parts of the world. How excited are you about returning to the place with an opportunity to create history? What is it that makes playing in South Africa more challenging than some of the other places you have played in?
South Africa was really the start for us as team starting to believe that we could win overseas. We built it up nicely in England and then Australia was an accumulation of all that effort. South Africa presents a different challenge. As I said, the wickets have a lot of pace and bounce. You need to be at your absolute best to be able to perform there and get runs... get difficult runs. Something we have tried to do as a team but probably left ourselves a bit too much to do at certain times when sessions have gone very bad when they have gone bad. That is something we have controlled very well in the recent past with more experience and guys understand how to play in these kind of conditions and against which bowlers... how to transition their innings through the day so they can bat long. I think we are very well placed in terms of experience, belief and confidence that we can do something special and get the results that we want as a team; and overcome probably the toughest conditions to travel.
You have always talked about building the team. How do you see your role in the ODI team as a senior member right now?
Well, my responsibility is always to push the team in the right direction. It is something that I have always looked to do... even before I became captain. So that mindset has never changed and it will never change. Rohit is a very able captain and very, very tactically sound. We have seen that in the games where he has captained India and in the IPL as well. And with Rahul bhai, who is a very balanced coach and great man-manager... both of them will have my absolute support and my contribution in whatever vision they set for the team. I will support that 100% and continue to be the guy who can push the team in the right direction.
Were you told the reasons for being removed as skipper and could you tell us a bit about your relationship with Rohit?
Reasons... obviously, we haven’t won an ICC tournament. I can understand the reasons. There is no debate on whether the decision was right or wrong. The decision taken by the BCCI has been taken with a logical point of view which is understandable. I get it. I have already spoken about how things transpired earlier. As far as my relationship with Rohit goes, I have said earlier as well that there are no problems between us and honestly, I am tired of answering the same question over and over again over the last 2-2.5 years. I can say with absolute guarantee that no action of mine will be to bring down the team as long as I play the game. That has always been my point of view for Indian cricket and this is my commitment to Indian cricket.