New Delhi: A brilliant 2019 done with, 2020 is the year of the World T20. But before that comes the Kiwi challenge for Team India and under the leadership of skipper Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri, this team has made its priorities very clear. The longest format of the game is closest to their heart and winning on foreign soil is what they call the real deal.
Speaking in his first interview of the new decade, Shastri speaks about Kohli’s love for the longest format, the day he realised that this Indian bowling would be the best in the world and how he deals with the pressure of social media comments that come with his job as the man guiding a group of immensely talented cricketers.
At a time when many want to play in lucrative cash-rich leagues across the world, Kohli says succeeding in Test cricket is the real challenge. So how does it feel as the head coach of a team which has a skipper wanting to be the best in the Test format? Does it have an influence on youngsters as well?
“Massive...not just for the Indian team, but the world when it comes to Test cricket. More than anything else, when a player like him endorses the game in an open manner where he is very clear what he wants out of Test cricket and that he enjoys that format the most.
“So, as a young kid watching the game, when they see a superstar embracing Tests, you will want to emulate him whether you are an Indian, English, Australian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan,” he said.
What helps Kohli and Shastri realise their dream of being the top performers in the longest format is a team of brilliant bowlers led by Jasprit Bumrah and ably assisted by the likes of Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. And the New Zealand series will once again need them to hold fort in conditions known to help fast bowling.
So when did Shastri believe that this group of bowlers could actually take India to the top of the ladder? Did he see it coming? The coach answers in the affirmative.
“Absolutely...no question about that. I was very clear in South Africa after we had a team meeting after the first day of the Cape Town Test. Then seeing what they did in the second innings, I had no doubt in my mind that if they carry on in this fashion, very soon you will be an attack that will have to be contended with. The fact that they learnt to bowl as a unit, you know made all the difference.
“You bat as a unit and the same goes for the bowling. You understand the situation and go with a common gameplan. It is all related to team play. Once I knew that was happening in South Africa, I knew it was a matter of time for the world to notice,” he smiled.
While the bowlers have been praised by one and all, an area of constant discussion has been the questions aimed at Kohli the skipper at regular intervals. But Shastri rubbishes them and says he hasn’t seen one perfect captain.
“I have not seen one perfect captain. You will have captains with different strengths and weaknesses. I have not seen any perfect captain till today. He might have great strength in one area and might be lacking in another where someone else will be better. So, you have to see the end result and what he makes of his strength and how it affects the team and the opponent.
“With Virat you can see he is someone who is improving by the day. The passion, the energy, the drive he brings to the cricket field is unmatched. I have not seen any other captain bring that kind of energy onto the cricket field. Tactically, there are areas where by doing the job and getting the exposure he will get better. For whoever has captained in this game, there has been a learning curve. I can’t think of one captain who didn’t have to learn from day one. You learn from situations and what he has done is remarkable,” he points.
So does that mean there are differences in opinions when the two sit down to discuss strategies? Or is the criticism that he is often happy to agree with Kohli, true?
“There is always room for fresh ideas. There will be discussions on that and it cannot be that everything you say is right. This team is open to reasoning and even the youngest member in the team can come up with a thought and at the end of the day, we put our heads combined to see what is best in the interest of the team,” he explained.
And what about the social media comments and the constant attention that comes with being the head coach of this team? Does it sometimes bother you?
“I mean that is part and parcel of the Indian cricket. This is nothing new and have grown to know that from when I took the job in 2014. Basically, nothing has changed and it is the passion in our country and love for the game is such. They want the team to do well at all times,” he signs off in typical fashion.