As India begin their final stretch towards the ICC T20 World Cup, they have about 11 T20Is left to find a final combination. With doubts over India’s participation in the Asia Cup, which at this point is still being hosted by Pakistan, India have three T20Is against Sri Lanka, five in New Zealand and then three more at home against England ahead of the tournament in Australia. The focus, as expected, is going to be on IPL performances as well before the side is finalised.
While frequent injury concerns have hampered the side a bit, Virat Kohli isn’t too concerned and is more focused on identifying individuals who can perform under pressure in the middle order. “T20 is something we don’t have any problems in picking players. Because you have the IPL, at a very competitive level, guys have been performing season after season,” he said on the eve of the series against Sri Lanka.
“And all the players you see are probably the most important Indian players in their team in the IPL, who feature for the franchises in every game. So, from that point of view, it’s about figuring out which player can fit in at what time and what’s the strongest combination you can take to the World Cup. And everyone’s game-ready, which is the most important thing and the biggest plus of having a squad like this with guys who have played a lot of T20 cricket, as I said, at a very competitive level.
“The next few series will be very exciting to see [as to] who stands up under pressure situations and how they react to pressure when maybe Rohit or maybe myself, or KL or Shikhar at the top haven’t fired. Those things will be interesting to find out because we need guys who are ready till 6 and 7 to win games. It can’t be dependent on two guys or three guys to win; that’s not how you win ICC tournaments. So, that’s our main focus to reveal situations to guys and expect them to come into their own and become those fearless match-winners that we should have going into a big tournament.”
Several injuries have opened up opportunities for fringe players to make their claim. Given the things at stake, and the fact that a World Cup berth could be sealed or lost, it’s expected the players will feel the pressure. With Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar out, the spotlight is on Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur. In Hardik Pandya’s absence, Shivam Dube has been thrust into the side to fill the big-hitting all-rounder’s spot. And then there’s extra scrutiny on the performances of Shreyas Iyer, who is trying to solve India’s No. 4 conundrum, and Rishabh Pant.
Kohli stressed, from the team’s perspective, the focus has been squarely on getting the young players comfortable around the regulars. “I see a cultural shift in Indian cricket. It’s about playing for the team and not thinking as individuals,” he pointed out. “From a very young stage, we’ve focused on what we did as individuals. When we came back from a game, we were asked what did you do and not how the team did. That’s a mindset change I see has happened in the last three years. We’ve started to appreciate small performances of the guys who may have taken a catch or got a great run out.
“You grow up wanting to play for the team and wanting to do well for the team and not for yourself and only then performances will happen for you as well. We get so engrossed in the rat race that we can go into our individual cocoons at times and that can hamper the team at an important stage. It’s important to understand that we are a team right now and another team will come in future.
“If you see someone going into their shell, pull that guy out and let’s focus on the team. These things are important to address and focus on every now and then. As sportsmen, we can take a lot of pressure about our own performances. Once you focus on the team, you can do things you can’t even imagine. That chat was basically to keep this culture going and change the mindset of the guys coming in as well so that they are not too worried about their own performances.”
Kohli also acknowledged the team is hungrier now to win an ICC tournament. “It (2019) was a great year apart from those 30 minutes,” he said. “It was something that as a team we were very proud of. We also understand that you play good cricket throughout the tournament and on a given day sport can do that to you. We also understand that it’s important to process in the right manner and move ahead. All we can do is give our best. Sometimes things are supposed to happen for you and sometimes not.
“We want to continue those (good) things. We have put the team on the right track. We are the team that everyone wants to beat and that’s a very exciting position to be in. We want to keep the standard as high as we can because it’s very important to understand that there’s a young influence that’s coming into the team now. And they need to be able to take the same culture and same mindset forward. Little transitions keep happening and we want to make sure that the guys who are coming in are on the same page and get up to speed as soon as possible.
“We need to keep growing these younger guys into guys who will take the team forward. I think the main focus is on that and the ICC tournaments that are coming along, that’s something we are going to target.”