Following the unprecedented saga surrounding the appointments of coach and support staffs, things have started to ease down in Indian cricket as the team heads for Sri Lanka for their first ever full tour since 2008. The tour commences with the three-match Test series at Galle from July 26, which is just a week away and the captain Virat Kohli along with new head-coach Ravi Shastri are desperately hoping for the focus to shift to the on-field action.
Both the skipper and coach attended the pre-departure press conference in Mumbai on Wednesday (July 19) and quite expectedly, some uncomfortable questions were thrown at them. But, both Kohli and Shastri carefully left those balls outside off-stump.
When the captain was asked to comment on the immediate task of getting over the controversies, he came out with the most innocent answer.
“I only have the bat in hand and my job is to go out there and control what’s been done on the field. That’s something that I have focused on in the last couple of months and I continue to do so, a lot of speculation and things fly around – those things are not in my control. (I) try to bring the best out of this team along with the management and try to perform to the best of my abilities which I believe.”
Asked if there would be an extra pressure to perform since the team now have their favourable coaching staff on board, the Indian captain was at his diplomatic best.
“I don’t think there is any added pressure because what has to happen will happen, I believe in that, regardless of what happens around on the outside world. As a team, we aspire to achieve what we want to achieve. Every one of us has faced hardships in the past. Criticism and being criticised is nothing new, so we understand that aspect of playing sport as well.”
“I only started off as a player and I wanted to do the best for the team. And, I continue to take up this responsibility and will continue to do so in the future years, till the team I am the captain or I am kept at this position. That’s what I see of it. I mean you only have to look at the series you are going to play ahead of you. If you focus only on these external factors, it’s very similar to you going out to bat and thinking what if I get out. It can happen in any scenario, so you just need to take care of your mindset and move forward,” he further added.
India’s last Test tour of the island nation was in 2015 when the relatively inexperienced visitors came back from behind to outclass the strong hosts. It was the start their unbeaten run, as following that triumph, India have not faced a series defeat in the purest form of the game so far.
Kohli wants to carry forward the mindset of that ‘landmark tour’.
“That tour for us was a landmark tour because the players have matured from then on. It’s been 24 months since then, but that tour was the start of our belief system that we can win away from home,” he said.
“We do have the side required to win away from home and we do have the culture that has been created in the team to win whatever Test matches or series that we play. The mindset was to try and win the series. Losing the first Test was a shock to us but the way we bounced back was only because of the team culture created at that stage. We showed more belief in our abilities and that we could win from any situation and from then on you could see the results that we have had so far. The same mindset would apply now what we started back in 2015.”
‘These Ravi Shastris, Anil Kumbles will come and go’
However, memories of India’s first Test series win on Sri Lankan soil since 1993, are still fresh in Shastri’s head, who was in the Indian dressing room in 2015, as a team director, but the newly appointed coach explained that he has not come with any sort of ‘baggage’.
“I have matured since I last went to Sri Lanka and I have matured immensely in the last two weeks. Mine will be a refresh button that will be pushed. I don’t come with any baggage. The team has done exceedingly well over three years and they are the people who deserve the credit more than anyone else.
“These Ravi Shastris, Anil Kumbles will come and go. The fabric of Indian cricket will remain. If they are number one today, it’s their efforts they have put in over that three-year period and they deserve the credit. People like us will come and go,” Shastri said.
When questioned why Bharat Arun was chosen as India’s bowling coach ahead of Zaheer Khan, whose name was recommended by the Cricket Advisory Committee, Shastri put forward his former team-mate’s ‘outstanding’ 15-year track record as a shield.
“There’s a track record — 15 years his life has been coaching. You look at that track record — it’s outstanding, right from junior level to A teams to Indian junior World Cup teams, he’s been part of – he knows these boys better than I do because he’s been in the system for the last 15 years.
“You look at the last World Cup – India took 77 out of 80 wickets. If Bharat Arun’s name was someone else, who has played a lot of Test cricket – you would’ve put him on top of the tree. I don’t need to elaborate too much on what he is good at, what are his strengths, it’s there for everyone to see,” he mentioned.
Well, the answers speak for themselves, aren’t they?
Clearly, the press conference was desperate attempt to portray a fake tranquillity in the system, by the two men, who have been the primary reasons behind the recent PR disaster of Indian cricket.
The funny thing is — when the sea is rough with the waves of controversies, Kohli and Shastri are looking for a smooth sailing!