Under the astute leadership of Virat Kohli, team India decimated the world’s number one test side, South Africa. Kohli as a leader simply stood out in the series and led with great enthusiasm. In a recent interview with bcci.tv, Kohli opened up in detail about the series. Below, is his interview with bcci.tv.
Your first two full Test series as India’s Test captain and you have won them both. How would you describe the feeling?
It means the world to me. It is a very proud moment for me individually, and as a team, we are very proud of our achievement – winning two historic series back to back. The kind of effort that the boys have put in, in important situations, has been quite commendable.
You just defeated the world’s No. 1 Test team and ended their tremendous winning run of nine years. And yet the talks throughout the series veered to other factors rather than India’s victory. Does that hurt?
It is a pity. The series happened in our country and our own people are looking for weaknesses and areas of criticism, and not speaking enough about the kind of good cricket we played. They have been talking about the pitches and how that has been a factor.
In this series, four of the top five run-getters were Indians. Top two wicket-takers were Indians. We have had no excuses, we played honest cricket and we got the results in our favour. We are proud of what we have done and how we have played.
Does it feel worse when even some of the former players now in the media focus on other factors and not talk enough about the fact that the team is winning?
It obviously hurts when people who have played the game themselves make such comments. I am not saying all of them do it. Some of them understand the mindset of the players, having gone through similar situations in their careers. They lend you support, say the right thing and even help you with certain technicalities.
But some people like to focus on the negatives. It feels bad as an Indian cricketer. Growing up, you have looked up to these people, and when you hear such comments from them you lose a bit of respect for them. It would be more respectful of them to come up and speak to a player individually if they feel there is some flaw that needs to be corrected.
And someone who hasn’t played for the country has no right to comment on an international cricketer anyway. I don’t think that has any kind of logic. You cannot sit there and say how you would have done something differently when you have not been in that situation yourself and don’t have the mindset of a cricketer.
What the media says or writes also has an impact on the way the general public believes things. That creates a negative perception, doesn’t it?
It does. People who have the power to speak up in the media, go out and criticise a player after just two innings, saying he is out of form or has a deficiency in his technique.
You go to Australia or other countries, they keep showing a player’s past good performances and talk about how good he is even when he is not in form. It helps the player gain confidence as well. It shows him that the whole system supports him. That’s what we don’t get.
This has been a pattern over the years in India – players are criticised unnecessarily. When you lose, it’s fine, but here, even when we are winning, they find new ways to criticise the team. It is completely bizarre.
It is something we have started ignoring as a team, but it is important to put this out there because the public believes what has been said by those on the TV and in the media. The fans will form their opinion based on what they hear on the TV – the analysis done on a player and the comments made about him. And they will repeat the same thing to the player when they come across him anywhere. The player is subjected to snide comments wherever he goes on a daily basis, and it is a serious area of concern. It is very important for a player to be backed by his own people, and it is something we deserve. We are Test cricketers, we work hard every day and never take things for granted.
Let’s talk about your captaincy. At the very start of your captaincy career you got this young team. You have no senior players around to guide you as the captain. How has that worked for you?
One advantage of having a young side where everyone is building their careers is that you can expect them to be on the same level, whether it is intensity wise or when following a plan is concerned. We are all still learning and figuring out the best way for us to perform.
At this juncture the team is really bonding well together, staying really tight, ignoring the negativity that floats around and focusing on the skills and taking control. This team reflects the mindset of the current generation of Indian cricketers. We want to go out there, be aggressive, make things happen rather than wait for them to happen.
The whole team plays with the same attitude – someone who is not naturally aggressive as a player, is making a conscious effort to be positive in his approach. That is why we have been able to win two series and not two odd Test matches.
Has the fact that you are a bowlers’ captain been vital to the team winning Test matches rather than drawing them?
It is very important to give confidence to the bowlers. We have told the bowlers that they are the bosses and they will dictate terms in Test cricket. And we want each bowler to think, ‘I am going to win the match for India’. Batsmen will contribute at some stage, but it is up to the bowlers to take responsibility and feel like match-winners.
In all the other teams their bowlers are looked after very well. You can see the captains giving them confidence, knowing that this guy is going to do the job for him. As an opposition batsman you feel like you are getting nothing from that bowler. It feels nice when our bowlers go out there and dominate; bowling with pace or spinning the ball, and troubling the opposition batsman. We want to make it as difficult for other team’s batsmen to score and survive as it is for us.
A very good example of that was Umesh Yadav’s last spell in the Delhi Test.
Absolutely. The way he bowled so brilliantly, he opened things up for us beautifully with that wicket of Dane Vilas just after tea. I had a discussion with Ravi (Shastri) bhai during the tea break and he said we must try and bowl as many overs as possible by bringing in spin from both ends. But I told him that the ball is reversing and Umesh is bowling with pace, so let me try and bowl him for a few overs as it might just hit the pad or something. And he just turned the whole game around. Those are the small moments when you need to show a little more belief in a particular bowler and push him a little more. In return he will give you the whole game. That’s exactly what Umesh did.
What made me really happy as the captain is that all my bowlers told me that they are ready bowl non-stop until the last minute of the Test.
That is the kind of effort they are ready to put in for the team. If I give them confidence, they want to bowl their heart out for me. We take care of each other and play for each other.
Talk about the growth of Ishant and Ashwin, not only as bowlers but bowling captains of the team.
I am very pleased to see Ishant taking up the role of the leader of the pace attack, and he is actually feeling like one. With the kind of experience he has under his belt, it is important for him to guide the other guys. It is important that others grow in his presence. And he is bowling beautifully. The way he bowled in Sri Lanka, I have never seen him bowl like that since his first tour of Australia (in 2008). He has got his confidence back. Even in this series, he knew he did his job for the team by putting in those maidens and creating pressure.
Ashwin has always been a champion bowler. I keep picking his brain on the field. In difficult situations I keep asking him what should be done. He gives me proper insight. As a captain you need a few people like that around. You cannot possibly think of everything at all times. Ashwin, Ajinkya, Ishant, Rohit – I keep speaking to these guys because they think about the game and analyse what’s going on in the field.
Captaincy at this level is more about man-management. Have your psychological skills improved since you’ve taken over the captaincy?
Yes, it is a challenge, because you want to handle people carefully at an individual level and not hurt anyone. For me it has not been that difficult because all the guys are pretty much similar and they don’t require any special treatment. There might be a few who need to be spoken to in a different way to motivate them. It is something you learn along the way. I certainly have improved in that regards since Australia and I can feel that the players want to work hard for the team.