After “eight or nine years” of playing round-the-clock cricket around the world in all formats, Virat Kohli is bracing himself for the same for three more years, after which it “might be a different conversation,” the Indian captain said on Wednesday (February 19).
Only five days after playing an ODI against Australia at home, India were playing a T20I in New Zealand as Kohli found himself at the mercy of the packed international calendar, saying “it is what it is”. Now, ahead of the Test series, Kohli has reiterated that the calendar is something that the players are thinking about. “Look it’s not a conversation that is to hide away from in any manner,” Kohli said. “I think it’s been eight or nine years that I have been playing almost 300 days a year with the travelling and practice sessions. And the intensity is right up there all the time. So it does take a toll on you. I am not saying that it’s not something the players are not thinking about.”
So far, the only way Kohli has managed his workload is by taking intermittent breaks from the shorter formats. Case in point, he was rested for the series against Bangladesh, and then took a break in one of the New Zealand matches as well after the rubber was decided. It’s an arrangement that’s functioning well for him given where his fitness stands at this point of his career and he’s determined to get through for the next 2-3 years during which his contribution would be paramount leading into a possible ‘transition phase’.
“We do choose to take a lot more breaks individually even though the schedule might not allow you to,” Kohli said. “You are going to see a lot of that in the future from many players. Not just myself, especially from the guys who are playing all three formats. It’s not that easy. Then being captain and having intensity in practice session and discussing the game, so it does take a toll on you. So I am not in that space at the moment. So periodic breaks for me seems to work pretty okay. At a time when the body doesn’t respond as well, maybe when I am 34-35, you might have a different conversation at that stage. But for the next 2-3 years, I have no issues at all. Can keep going on with the same intensity and I also understand that the team wants a lot of my contribution in the next 2-3 years so that we can ease into another transition phase that we faced some 5-6 years ago. So the mindset is on the larger picture, and from that point, I am preparing myself for a rigorous three years from now. And then after that we might have a different conversation.”
For the time being though, Kohli is looking forward to India’s first big overseas Test since the start of the World Test Championship, which he feels has “made Test cricket more exciting”. India are runaway leaders of the tournament so far with 360 points, having won all seven matches played at home, but now face their most difficult challenges with New Zealand first up, before going to Australia later in the year. Those are challenges that have Kohli excited, as does the new format that he believes is “right up there” as an ICC tournament.
“I think the series in South Africa was pretty interesting, with South Africa winning the first and then England winning the Cape Town won, the way they won in the last hour. I think you will see a lot more results like that because of the points that are on the line,” Kohli said. “I think Test Championship, as an ICC tournament should be right up there. All the other tournaments, for me, start under that. This is going to be the biggest of them all. And every team wants to make it to the final at Lord’s. And we are not any different. We want those points and make sure that we qualify as early as soon as we can and be in that frame of mind to hopefully win that.
Kohli gave a clear idea of the team’s make-up for Wellington Test. He talked of the advantage of having a world-class spinner in the midst, while highlighting that three fast bowlers are enough to do the job for them. Ishant Sharma, returning from injury, is expected to be among those three fast bowlers after Kohli said he looked “pretty normal” and bowled like before.
Two days out from the Test, the Basin Reserve pitch had plenty of grass on it but India don’t seem to be getting carried away just yet. “If it’s a Johannesburg pitch, it’s a possibility,” Kohli said of playing four pacers. “From the point of view of our team, we have enough skill that even with three fast bowlers we can win matches. But if you have a world-class spinner in the midst, it’s a great advantage. A world-class spinner has the ability to take wickets on any kind of pitch. So we are not looking at the combination of other teams. We will stick to our strengths. We look for putting the most lethal and balanced bowling attack. We have the belief that with this bowling attack we can win the matches against this batting attack. Ours is a different bowling attack compared to the last tour, in terms of the experience. As a group, we haven’t bowled better than this. We haven’t bowled out these many sides in the last 2-3 years. I’m sure they will repeat the same here as well.”
Prithvi Shaw also appears likely to get the nod over Shubman Gill to open the innings along with Mayank Agarwal. Shaw, like Gill, couldn’t make a big impression in the unofficial tour match and his technique against the moving ball has been a subject of scrutiny, but Kohli wanted the young opener to “follow his instincts and play the way he does”. Kohli also felt that Agarwal too, after his failures in the ODIs, would benefit by switching back to the discipline of the red-ball game.
“In white-ball cricket you can try to do too much, but when you come into red-ball cricket you fall into the discipline mould of batting, which obviously suits him much more at this stage. Prithvi is a talented player, so he has his own game and we want him to follow his instincts and play the way he does. Look, these guys have no baggage. These guys are not desperate to perform here in any manner or they don’t have any nerves in wanting to do well overseas because they haven’t done well in the past or something like that. I think with a clear head, as Mayank played in Australia, hopefully Prithvi can do the same in New Zealand and Mayank can carry forward that as well. A bunch of new guys, they play with a lot of fearlessness and something that can motivate the whole team and give us the starts that we want and not be intimidated by the opposition in any manner.”