It’s been a tour without the slightest blips for India in Sri Lanka, and at the forefront, captain Virat Kohli should be elated. His wonderful hundred ensured India clean-swept the ODI series as well, winning 5-0. Kohli spoke at the end of the series and heaped praise on his side, singling out the spinners and Jasprit Bumrah for their efforts. He also spoke about India’s lookout for the perfect combination and how the team is trying to achieve that.
Excerpts from the post-match press conference, addressed by Virat Kohli
On the Test and ODI series whitewashes
We’re doing very well in Test cricket, ODIs we didn’t win three games in a row before this. So from the last game in West Indies to now we’ve won six, that’s something that we wanted to address, which we did in this series.
We wanted to be relentless, we wanted to create good habits and make sure that we’re challenging ourselves every time we go out on the park. And that helps you when you’re going through difficult situations. I think that’s one thing that we addressed before this series and it’s really helped us come out here and play how we wanted to play and not let complacency get to us at any stage. Good habits are hard to create and once you create them and then if you take the game easy then the game will find out those things and sort you out on the park.
We respect the game and that’s something we decided to do all throughout regardless of what was happening otherwise.
The difference between West Indies and Sri Lanka
We didn’t analyse the opposition at any stage in this series, we only wanted to focus on our strengths and make sure we keep repeating those things out in the middle. That way the opposition is not something that you need to focus on. We just wanted to execute the plans we made for ourselves as a team regardless of the opposition.
It didn’t matter to us whether we were playing Sri Lanka or we’re going to play Australia back home. For us, it was focusing on our team. We didn’t sit and think what is the difference between the two sides. If you have an opportunity to win international games you’re going to pounce on those opportunities and win, and perform as well. So that’s exactly what we did and we never thought at any stage that this is the difference between the two sides or we didn’t analyse anything. We were just looking for improvements on our side of things.
On experimenting with spinners
These guys were brilliant, all three of them. Axar [Patel] being a conventional spinner as well. He varied his pace, I think it was outstanding, he didn’t let the batsmen get on top of him. That’s a remarkable thing – when you don’t have any variation in your bowling and you still don’t let guys score – I think it’s the height that really helps him getting that extra bounce and the extra pace he can generate. He’s got a very strong shoulder and people find it difficult to sweep him.
Kuldeep [Yadav] and [Yuzvendra] Chahal being wrist spinners will always keep you in the game. I certainly felt that all three of them were pretty spot on with attacking all the time. It really helped us get those crucial wickets in the middle overs and at the same time helped us control the run rate as well. You might see changes in the bowling attack every now and then but these guys have grabbed the opportunity really well. It’s going to be a challenge among all the bowlers and the spinners that are going to be in the part of the bigger group to make it to the 2019 World Cup. We don’t want to be predictable in any way and we want to have an X factor if possible with the bowling attack as well.
On whether fielding will be an issue going forward
I think the only sort of average day we had on the field was today, apart from that I think our fielding has been sharp in all the four games. We wanted to put the best fielding side on the park, and that certainly helped the energy. We got a few run-outs, and a few good catches as well, a lot of people stopping those singles in between so that was one thing that we addressed.
It was our priority to put out the best possible fielding side on the park. In fact, I as a batsman, if someone stops four boundaries of mine on the ropes in four overs, that’s the difference between me getting set or me getting frustrated and playing a bad shot and getting out. Today wasn’t our best fielding performance but apart from that we have been quite spot on.
Well… if the number is big, the bowlers will want to correct that. That’s something you can’t take for granted. Extras are something you have to control. In the future, if we tighten those up, it will only help us execute things better and squeeze the opposition even more.
On Bumrah, and about your 30th century, you only have Sachin Tendulkar in front of you
Jasprit, obviously, he has been our most effective short-format bowler in the last 18 months. He has really worked on his bowling a lot, especially his length ball has picked up more pace. That’s very heartening to see because it never lets the batsmen get settled. It’s not only about yorkers and slower balls any more. He can bowl a good length ball and nick you off as well, which I think is the biggest improvement in his bowling. Credit to him for shaping his game in that way. Getting a man of the series award in the subcontinent as a fast bowler, it’s always a great thing to achieve. He bowled in really good areas and he deserves to be the man of the series. I hope he can continue the same way against Australia.
As far as I go, I look to perform as well as I can for the team. These things keep happening as you go along in your career. You don’t target these things, but yeah, those stat windows are hard to neglect because they pop up everywhere after you’ve achieved something. It’s an honour for me to equal someone like Ricky Ponting. That’s not something that you aim for but obviously he’s a great player and as batsmen, we all respect what these legends have done. It feels great to equal one, but as you said the great man is (chuckles) quite a bit away. That’s going to take a hell of an effort. Again, I am not thinking about that. It’s only about the team where even if I score a 90 not out and the team goes across the line, it’s good enough for me.
On the Pitch
Yeah, the pitch was very different from the last game. It has been under covers for two days and it was quite sticky so the spinners were much more effective and the ball wasn’t coming on to the bat that well. I only had nine boundaries in the century, so I have had two big knocks in three days in very hot conditions. So today was very challenging in terms of running those singles and doubles and rotating strike and because we only played with six batsmen including MS it became much more important for me to stick in there, and not take lot of risks play those high risk shots.
At this stage of your career, it becomes about awareness and what the team wants you to do. Last game was an opportunity for me to come out and play the way I wanted to, but today obviously playing a batsman less the responsibility was on me when we were 29/2. So that’s second nature for you when you have done it x number of times for the team so it’s not something that you need to plan before, you just react to a situation and as I said you need to be respectful towards the game and keep working hard and the results do come for sure.
On future series and player rotation/motivation
The best thing is transparency. We address it and tell them that this is a bunch of 20-25 people who will make the probable for the world cup and everyone has an equal opportunity to be tested at different stages. Till the world cup, we have what 42 matches, 37 now if I am not wrong, so yeah we will have to keep trying different players and try the best combinations for us. And we will have to give that combination a long run before we settle into the world cup. So everyone understands where we stand as a team, you have to appreciate that and accept that because it is about the larger picture, it is not about who is sitting out and who is playing, it is about focussing on a very big tournament.
In that scenario people will have to accept roles and will have to accept things that are addressed. The best thing about this team is they are very sporting and they accept things quickly, and embrace the challenges, you know they take it as a challenge rather than getting disappointed and sulking, start working hard on that aspect of their game and make it happen for the team so I am quite lucky that I have a bunch of players that do not oppose anything that the management and me as captain address to them. It makes my job a lot more easier.
On finding the perfect combination
The sooner the better. If within the next couple of series we find the best combination for us, which is covering all bases and working well, and we find an eleven that is flexible enough to try different batsmen at different position or play bowlers who can bat a bit and things like that, then I think we are sorted, along with having the best fielding side on the park. I think that’s a balance that we need to create. It will only happen when we have a couple of big series coming up, so if guys perform in that then the mindset becomes different of taking anyone anywhere in the world so I think those series will be very important for us to find the right balance as a team.
It will be a milestone for younger players to gain more confidence and be a regular in the playing eleven that is more flexible. We don’t want to be predictable for sure, till the lead up to the world cup and in the world cup. We want eleven guys who can bat at any stage and bowl and chip in with overs at any stage. We remain unpredictable and there is no pattern to anyth