Kolkata: The jury may be out on whether the Indian cricket establishment covered itself with glory with their plan of putting Virat Kohli ‘in place,’ but the master batter showed on Wednesday that he was ready to take things head-on. Both on and off the field.
In one of the most eagerly awaited press conferences in recent times for the Indian cricket media, Kohli did not mask the hurt at the manner in which he was removed from the ODI captaincy - a decision he got to know barely half-an-hour before the selection of the Test squad. There was no prior communication according to him - something which contradicts the BCCI president Sourav Ganguly’s explanation a few days back.
‘’I was contacted one and-a-half hour before selection for Tests. The chief selector (Chetan Sharma) discussed with me the Test squad. Before the call ended, I was told that the five selectors had decided that I won’t be ODI captain anymore. There was no prior communication about this,’’ said Kohli, who has a 70% win ratio as the leader in ODIs though India has failed to win any ICC trophy under him.
The revelation is not going to go down well with the powers that-be, particularly at a time when the performer and the captain Kohli is under intense scrutiny. In a tweet early in the day, Anurag Thakur, the Union Minister of State for Sports & Youth Affairs and a former BCCI president set the tone when he said ‘‘nobody is bigger than the game’’ in reference to speculation of a war of egos between Kohli and Rohit Sharma over changes in captaincy.
The positive takeaway from the virtual interaction - apart from Kohli announcing his availability for the one-day series after rumours of him asking for leave in a report - was him setting the tone for Mission South Africa. The Rainbow Nation has mostly evoked nightmarish memories for visiting Indian teams (they have won three matches out of 20 Tests), but the team showed character in their last trip in 2018, when they won the Johannesburg Test and lost the series 2-1.
“We can take a lot of motivation from that (Johannesburg 2018 win). We probably 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 self-confidence and belief, we can definitely stand up to any challenge that comes our way and take a lot of heart from it,” said Kohli.
“South Africa is 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 just a Test match here and there and we will do our absolute best to make sure we keep contributing towards the cause. We will take a lot of motivation and belief from that win on the last tour,” added Kohli.
The teams who have defeated South Africa at home have been Australia, England and Sri Lanka and Kohli’s men will do well to sense their chance against the Proteas who are going through a phase of transition.
During their last visit, there was a case of India missing out on a warm-up game for acclimatisation ahead of the first Test. The backdrop remains the same in the Covid times and Kohli stressed on the need for central wicket practice and match stimulations playing a key role. “As much centre-wicket practice as possible, match simulations. I think those kinds 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, I think as much simulation as we can have, understanding which areas we are hitting the ball, getting into good shape. With the bowlers are well, with the slips in place, what areas they want to bowl in and to cut down those easy singles and the boundary options. All those kinds of things help you get into a good space when you don’t have warm-up games.”
Finally, a word on the so-called war of egos between him and Rohit Sharma. ‘’There is no rift between me and Rohit Sharma. I have been clarifying this for the past two years and I am tired. None of my actions or decisions will be to take the team down,’’ he said.
Now, we have heard that before. Suffice to say, superstars in a sporting outfit need not often be best of friends - Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil were not in their playing days, neither were Steve Waugh and Shane Warne. All they need to do is serve the interest of the team!