Special report by Debasish Datta (for The Samaya)
Q. After a very high intensity match which you won brilliantly, you are here in this game which is not really very significant in terms of the team reaching the quarterfinals. It may not really have a massive impact, but it’s still a very important game. How do you look at that?
VIRAT KOHLI: Well, I’m not sure of the significance factor. We haven’t really thought about that, but from the point of view that it will give us immense self‑belief that we can beat big sides come the knockout stages, as well, will play a big factor in the game tomorrow, I think. South Africa is as we all know one of the top sides in the world, and they have a good balance of batting and bowling, and their fielding is obviously rare standards in international cricket. Yeah, to get over that hurdle tomorrow will be immense self‑belief booster for us in many ways. As I said, it’s very important to hold momentum in a tournament like the World Cup, and that’s something we started off on a good note and something we’ll be looking to build on over the next few games.
Q. In the last game your hundred was quite different where you took your time and allowed the others to bat around you, so is that something that you’re looking to do in this World Cup, and maybe not put the attacking instinct maybe for a little later?
VIRAT KOHLI: Well, I’ve been in good form, so more or less it was a case of me making most of that and helping the team in doing so. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t get a hundred, which would have a striker over a hundred. You never know in cricket. I might go out there tomorrow and I might get six boundaries in the first ten balls. It’s just a matter of giving yourself the best chance. That’s what I wanted to do out there, give myself a bit of time and figure out what my momentum of the innings would be today, and accordingly work the plan out. You can’t keep batting in one way, you have to bat in different ways. People will have plans for you. It’s all about how you come to them and stay a step ahead. I think last game more than anything was a learning curve for me personally, learning how to play in different gears and how to mold my game according to what the bowlers are bowling at me. Sometimes you will have a single‑minded approach that might pay off, but it doesn’t happen every time in international cricket, and I think to be consistent you have to switch, which I think I was able to do in the last game. It indeed was something that gave me more confidence in molding my game according to the situation and the bowlers.
Q. We spoke to Dale Steyn a while earlier, and of course you guys know each other pretty well through IPL. He spoke of two different personas, about the cricketer on the field and the person off the pitch. Your thoughts on him, because you obviously spent a lot of time and you’ve shared dressing rooms together. Your thoughts on Dale Steyn the cricketer versus the person he is, because he always says that on the field there’s no friends, it’s when you have the cricket bat or the wicket ball, that person at the other end I’m facing off, I have to take them down. Your thoughts on him vis‑a‑vis in that fashion?
VIRAT KOHLI: Well, I would say the exact same thing for Dale. I played with him in RCB for three years, and we became such good friends that we’ve carried on our friendship after that, as well, and whenever I meet him he gives me the biggest hug, and it’s been consistent throughout. Even if we have to play a game before that we are always really friendly. We know on the field come game time, I’ll be looking to dominate him and he’ll be looking to dominate me, which is a mutual respect kind of a thing, I guess. Whatever is said and done at that point of time, it’s taken into good sportsman’s spirit because we know after the game we’ll obviously be best buddies again. I think I’ve shared a great friendship with a lot of South African players over the years, and Dale has to be one of the more special ones, and I can say the same thing for him, he’s a completely different person on the field, which is absolutely fine. He’s very aggressive. He’s obviously very passionate about playing for South Africa. There’s a good reason why he’s the best bowler in the world for a while now, and he’s so consistent because he has that mentality, and off the field he’s a complete different person, you know, jokes around, he laughs all the time, and you wouldn’t know unless you know him. I think it’s pretty similar with me and him, how we are on the field and off the field. That’s why I think we get along really well together.
Q. You shifted down to No.4 during the Tri‑Series and then back up to No.3 for the World Cup warm‑up games. What’s the thinking behind having you back at 3, and why were you shifted down to No.4?
VIRAT KOHLI: I’ve answered this before, as well. We were trying to figure out the best combination for the team. People really need to have some patience with something that we try to do. We do a few experiments, and if they don’t pay off, it’s regarded as something which is going to be our downfall. We don’t think like that. I’ve played enough number of games to try and experiment the batting position for the team to be in the best combination possible, but we figured out that it’s best for me to bat at No.3, which I’ve done over the last few years, and we have got success because me or one of the top three batsmen has been able to bat through. So later on we figured that out. Unless you try, you would never know if you’re right or wrong. You have to make mistakes, you have to learn from them, and that was one situation where we wanted to try things out, and we couldn’t have done it at any time apart from the Tri‑Series, and yeah, that was the main plan behind it.
Q. Did it affect your batting at all?
VIRAT KOHLI: No, it did not affect my batting at all. If you do well regularly, people want you to play well in every game. I can’t virtually score a century in every game that I play. As long as I know what I’m doing with my batting and the kind of mindset I’m in, I’m not really worried about anything else.
Q. Ravi Shastri said that keeping in mind your performances in Adelaide, you should be named the honorary mayor of Adelaide. What does Adelaide cricket ground do to you on a personal level, and every time you step on to MCG does something also happen to you?
VIRAT KOHLI: See, every ground in Australia I feel is very special. When you do play cricket, for a cricketer, since I was small I’ve seen legendary test matches and one‑day cricket and the World Cup in Australia, so it leaves this feeling when you step on to it because it has a lot of history to it. It’s going to turn out to be one of my most favourite grounds in the world. It so happened on this tour I was able to score three centuries there. It’s turned out that way. I’ve heard Brian Lara say Sydney, he loved Sydney and playing at Sydney, so it feels nice. Even I could sort of connect to that feeling of having a ground where you get support, as well, and then you perform good, as well. There’s something about that ground. I step on to Adelaide oval and there’s a different feeling I feel.
Q. And if so, have you picked up anything, and has it gone according to what you would expect, and how would you sum up the first week of this World Cup?
VIRAT KOHLI: I think it’s been really exciting. I’ve followed most of the games. There have been some very exciting performances from teams that don’t regularly feature in international cricket, say Ireland, Afghanistan has played well, Zimbabwe played really well against South Africa, so it’s very encouraging to see even Scotland was good to watch. It’s very encouraging for world cricket, I guess, the first week how it’s gone in this World Cup, and the teamsÂ ‑‑ it shows that the teams have come up a few levels, and they’re working hard on their cricket, which is obviously a great thing for international sport and for cricket in general. Yeah, it’s lived up to all expectations, I guess. There have been big crowds in almost all the games, and I hope it continues, and there’s a different buzz around when the World Cup starts. I really hope it sustains and it stays throughout, because it has been a really exciting week.
Q. With you coming in at No.3 or No.4, does that play on your mind, and does that play on your mind to affect your innings, whether at 3 or 4?
VIRAT KOHLI: No, not at all. As I said, I don’t think so far ahead, even in my cricket. I focus on every ball that I’m playing, I focus on every over that’s going on, and accordingly I plan how the game has to go. You can’t really think off wild batting. If you want to hit a six in a situation that demands it, you can’t sit and think, oh, my No.9 and 10 batsmen are not good enough, so I’m not going to take that risk. That’s not how cricket should be played, that’s not how cricket is played, and you can’t think like that. That’s negative thinking in the first place. I don’t think anyone in the side thinks like that. Obviously when it comes down to a situation where you need contribution from them, you can put all your backing behind them and all your confidence in them and sit and watch and actually be convinced that they’re going to make that contribution for you, so you can’t really think beforehand about the lower order batting.
Q. We’ve just been listening to Anil Kumble talk about Ashwin and how he reminds him of himself a little bit, especially having to prove himself away from home. Just wondering your thoughts on particularly how he bowled in that game against Pakistan, how important those maidens were, and do you think he’s really winning his critics who are critical of his performance away from home?
VIRAT KOHLI: You know, I was really happy to see him bowl the way he did in that first game. He is a very skillful bowler, and I think he’s at his best when he wants to take wickets, and he was really aggressive in the last game, I guess. He was on top of the batsmen the whole time. It’s more of a mental battle going on the field, and I think he was on the top most of the time when he bowled. And those maidens were game changers to be honest. He got only, what, one wicket, but the way he bowled was absolutely outstanding, especially when you take into consideration you have five fielders in the ring and their spinners could not contain us so much, and the way he bowled in that wicket was pleasing to watch. He will be a key factor for us as long as he can be in that same mindset that he was in the first game, which is to take wickets and be on top of the batter. Yeah, I’m really happy for him, and he’s had a great start and hopefully he can sustain that through the tournament.
Q. Do you think tomorrow’s game will be a true reflection of India’s strength, both in terms of its batting and its bowling?
VIRAT KOHLI: Which game is not? For us every game is apparently a test. Even the more weaker sides against us, we always talk about what if they upset us. I’m not really thinking about all that. It’s a game of cricket. I always maintain that you play a game of cricket with bat in hand and ball in hand, and that’s all there is to it. You’re wearing different colored clothes, and that’s it. It’s how you feel mentally on that particular day. Obviously there’s no need to prove anything to anyone. We want to play well as a unit, and that’s what we’re looking to do in this World Cup.
Q. After a high intensity Test series, does the team seem to turn the intensity levels down in the Tri‑Series and has cranked it up again? Is it deliberate, or was it planned this way?
VIRAT KOHLI: That’s a very strange question, because you can’t deliberately switch intensity in international cricket. You can’t suddenly wake up one day and say, oh, I’m not going to play ‑‑ I’m only going to play 30 percent of my game today. This is not a game that’s been served on a platter to anyone. We’ve worked hard to be here. We have played cricket in a certain way. If you ask me, I play the club level games with the same intensity that I play an India game. I could not even think of turning my intensity down intentionally in my wildest dreams. It’s just that you don’t get that momentum sometimes, and it carries through a particular series or a tournament, and it’s all about how you come back from that. I think the break in between helped us to mentally be fresh again, and intensity was always there, but to create that momentum together as 11 players, it’s very difficult, and once you get hold of it, what we did beautifully in the 2011 World Cup, if you saw ‑‑ you could see the team, when you see the team playing on the field, it looks like a unit. There’s not an extra effort to prove that to people, but it just is conveyed through watching the game. That’s what we’ve been able to achieve in the first game, and that’s what we are looking to hold onto, but yeah, you can’t really intentionally switch intensity. I don’t think so.
Q. After the Pakistan match you had spoken about what your role is essentially, batting through most of the overs and then the others playing a supporting role around you. In terms of let’s say on a ground like Melbourne which is bigger, MCG is bigger, the role of the support cast, how much more challenging does it become for them?
VIRAT KOHLI: I think at any ground the role of finishers really depends on how the top order bats. I think in Melbourne we have seen sustained momentum throughout the innings has probably been the successful way. Teams that have tried to slug it out in the last 10 usually don’t end up pulling off that many runs, especially teams that are not familiar to these conditions, because there’s more bounce, the boundaries are bigger, so it’s not that easy to clear boundaries on a regular basis, so I think sustained momentum throughout the innings is very important in a ground like Melbourne because it’s big, you have to hit angles, you have to hit gaps, and you have to run hard, and you have to place the ball more than power the ball over the boundary. Yeah, it will be a calculated approach towards our batting, and we’ll have to make some changes according to how big the field is, and all the guys have played on this ground, and I’m sure they’re thinking about it.