Indian captain Virat Kohli on Thursday backed head coach Ravi Shastri’s role in the team ahead of their departure for Australia, saying he has helped a lot of players bring out their best and that he is not a yes-man as has been made out in some quarters.
“The contribution that he [Shastri] has brought to the table ever since we started building this team is making people believe they belong at this level and I can vouch for it,” Kohli said in the pre-departure press conference ahead of the Australia tour.
“At a time when we were going through a difficult phase in England in 2014 – he has been the most important factor in helping me get out of my shell. Shikhar in the 2015 World Cup as well, he can vouch for that. To get the best out of the players, I think he’s been the most important factor,” he added.
Kohli also praised Shastri man-management, saying it is the most important factor at the level they play at. “A lot of people think we don’t understand the game enough and what needs to be done, that someone needs to literally tell us where the bat has to come from, where the head has to be but I think we have learned those things enough,” Kohli said. “It’s about man-management which Ravi bhai has done brilliantly in the time he’s been with us.”
When Shastri replaced Anil Kumble as head coach in 2017, one of the prevailing theories was that Kohli wanted someone he was close to and someone who is on the same page as himself. The Indian captain rubbished that sentiment.
“About [Shastri] saying ‘yes’ all the time [to me], that’s the most bizarre thing I’ve heard. I don’t think anyone has said no to me as much as him, honestly. He’s one guy I can speak to and get an honest opinion – if something doesn’t need to be done, he’ll tell you. I’ve made the most changes to my game listening to him [Shastri] than anyone else in the past,” Kohli said.
Shastri came under immense criticism after the England tour, with Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag among those who went on record questioning the former all-rounder’s role in the side.
“These are very personal things that happen within the team environment and things that conveniently need to be put out there are put out there,” Kohli said. “We are not going to take a banner and say, ‘This is what happens in the Indian team.’ As long as the heart is clear, we keep moving forward.”
Kohli said everyone is entitled to their opinions on the dynamics of the dressing room, but for his team everything has been organic and not fake.
“He [Shastri] will finish one day, I’ll finish one day but Indian cricket stays here. And we are just contributing to that. No one is here to gain something or dominate, we are all here to fulfil the responsibility of taking Indian cricket forward,” the captain said.
Focus on the batsmen
Batting let the team down in South Africa and England, leading to a back-to-back series defeats. With Australia missing the suspended Steve Smith and David Warner, India have a good chance of recording a maiden series win in Australia. But Kohli is not looking too far ahead.
“There is a lot of room for improvement. That is something we realise as a team also. We understand what we need to work on so it is up to the individuals to take ownership of that,” said Kohli, referring to the batting especially.
“There were lot of things we discussed after England, on what went wrong. We felt there was not a lot that we did wrong but whatever was not right went extreme. We played good cricket but the mistakes were also very extreme.
“How to control the game is something we need to work on. We have to find a solution in tough situations rather than feeling that it would appear from somewhere.”
On the contrary, the bowlers did well in the last two away tours but Kohli said all departments must fire in unison to achieve a series win.
“From the last time we went there (to Australia), fitness levels of the bowlers are surely up, which is the most important factor in Australia. The pitches can get boring at times, the Kookaburra doesn’t do much. So, it is about maintaining the pace with which you start your day.”
He cited the example of South Africa, who are one of the few teams to win a Test series in Australia in recent times.
“That is why South Africa have done well. They had Mornie Morkel, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and now Kagiso Rabada. They have relentlessly bowled in the right areas to get those wickets. Our guys are surely capable too to do a similar kind of job but I don’t want to focus on that. The batsmen need to step up as well.
“We have spoken as team after England on putting up a complete performance. Everyone is keen to correct those things. People have to take more ownership especially the batsmen. The whole combination has to come together to win series and not just one Test.”
The captain reiterated that importance of lower-order scoring runs.
“Definitely, the lower-order contribution is crucial. It made the difference in the England series.”
The specialist batsmen cannot afford to repeat the mistakes committed in England, stressed Kohli.
“Apart from Lord’s, we were not bundled out in one session. We batted well in patches. What happens is that when you have a bad session with the bat, you could end up losing the game and that can dent you mentally. The challenge is to overcome that.
“When you play overseas, they are not going to let you dominate. We have to understand how to control the situation (after a collapse). And if that happens in any case, we should know how to refresh rather than pile it on in our heads. So we need to focus on staying in the present and not think of anything else,” Kohli added.