Ahead of team India’s departure to England, captain Virat Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri addressed the media, and gave their thoughts on a host of things. Below are the important excerpts from the press conference.
Q) Test specialists such as Rahane, Ashwin have compared the WTC Final to the World Cup final. Thoughts?
Ravi Shastri: It’s the first time you have a Test championship final. When you look at that, and the magnitude of the game that’s going to be played, I think this is the biggest, if not the biggest ever. It’s the toughest form of the game. It’s a format that Tests you. It’s not happened over three days or three months - it’s happened over two years, where teams have played against each other around the world and earned their stripes to play the final.
Virat Kohli: I agree with the same. I think this holds a lot of value. Especially with it being the first of its kind and that too in the toughest format. All of us take a lot of pride in playing Test cricket and the way we have progressed as a side is an example of what Test cricket means to us. So for all of us, for those who have been part of the Test side for many years, this is like an accumulation of all the hard work of not just the duration of the championship, but of the last 5-6 years, since the time we started coming up the ranks. Just very happy to have the opportunity to play in the final.
Q) Is a one-off final a proper way to conclude a two-year journey?
Ravi Shastri: Ideally, in the long run, if they want to persist with the Test championship, a best of three series would be ideal. But yes, we’ve got to finish it as quickly as possible because of the FTP that will start all over again. One off is a one off and the guys have earned their stripes. This is not a team that has blossomed overnight suddenly; like Virat said, 5-6 years number one. When you start playing cricket at the highest level and competing against the best, you have the ability to pull yourself out of tough situations. Not just Australia, not just England. Over the last two years, there have been many instances where this side has pulled itself out of big problems and gone on to win the series. A final is a great victory for the boys, really.
Q) Is England the final frontier for India in Test cricket?
Virat Kohli: I don’t think there’s any frontier for us. If you look at our transition, it was really smooth because we were all committed to keeping Indian cricket on top. We’ve continued to do that. Test cricket we’ve finished #1 few years in a row now. Now you see youngsters coming in, so another transition is going on within the team. So I don’t think this is the final frontier, after which we have no idea where to go. This is an ongoing process to keep the standard of Indian cricket high and we’ve done our duty in the last 5-6 years with absolute commitment. Now the transition phase is going on, where our responsibility is to instill the same passion and commitment on the next crop of players so we remain on top for the years to come. That’s how progress really happens.
Q) Is lack of preparation for India, heading into the WTC Final, a problem? New Zealand, in contrast, are going to have a great buildup.
Virat Kohli: In the past we’ve landed in places three days prior, even with a proper schedule, and have had hell of a series and hell of a competition. It’s all in the head. Its’ how you look at the situation currently. It’s not like we’re going to be playing in England for the first time - we all know what the conditions are going to be like. Even if you’re used to the conditions, if you don’t enter the field with the right frame of mind, you’re going to nick that first ball. I think due to the hunger and desire to be there and play the final, we don’t have an issue entering the final even if we get only 4 practice sessions under our belt.
Q) India will be fielding two sides simultaneously (in SL and ENG). Could this be a common occurrence in the long run?
Ravi Shastri: You never know. At the moment it’s happening because of the current situation and the restrictions on travel. But in the future, if you want to expand the game, especially in the shorter formats of the game, then it could be the way to go. Why not? When you have that much volume of cricketers, if you want to spread the T20 game across the globe, that could be the way to go. If you’re talking about Olympics in 4 or 8 years time, then you need more countries - so that could be the way to go.
Q) What’s the difference between the Virat Kohli of 2014, 2018 and 2021?
Virat Kohli: Firstly I’m 4 years older, so that’s one difference. Apart from that, I don’t think the mindset has changed at all. The mindset has always been to go there and perform for the team. I had a chance to lead in 2018, and contrary to the acceptance on the outside, we understand the kind of cricket we played there (in 2018) and how much pride we took in the way we played. We were never outplayed in any game barring the Test at Lord’s. So I only see it as an evolution of my situation, my position in the team. Now we’re going there for the WTC Final. In 2014 if you told me that 7-8 years down the line we’ll be going to England to play a WTC Final, I would have had a tough time believing that. 2018 was the start of us going there and starting to perform away from home. I’ve stopped looking at things as ultimate tasks and tests you need to pass every now and then. For me it’s about making sure I remain committed to contributing in every game I play and lead in the right manner to move the team forward.
Ravi Shastri: I’ll answer that. Compared to 2014, Kohli is now slimmer, fitter, he is captain of the side - most successful captain - and he is only five-and-a-half-thousand runs richer.
Q) Indian players are going to play non-stop cricket - WTC, England Tests, IPL and WT20. How will the workload of the players be managed?
Virat Kohli: Taking on from the question asked to Ravi bhai about two squads in different places, with the current structure, to be honest it’s very difficult for players to stay motivated over a long period of time and find the right kind of mental space. This will definitely become a norm of the future where, apart from the workloads, I think the mental health side of things will come into the picture big time. Because we don’t have an outlet at all in today’s day and age. You’re literally going to the ground and coming back to the room. There’s no space where you can disconnect from the game and go for a coffee or walk. This is a huge factor which should not be neglected. Because as much hard work we’ve done to create this team, we don’t want players dropping out because of the mental pressure, not having the space to express themselves. So I think there has to always be that channel open, which the management have left it open for the players to tell that, “Look. I’m not in the right headspace. And I just need a little break.” That’s going to be a huge factor and I’m sure Ravi bhai and the management feel the same.
Ravi Shastri: And you’ll see it during the Test series. I’m not talking about the WTC Final, but when you have to play five Tests in this environment in six weeks, it’s no joke. Even the fittest will need a break - it’s not the physical part, but the mental one. You can be destroyed mentally, being asked to do the same things day in and day out, then go out and perform. It’s not easy to recover, especially if you’ve had a bad day. So it’s important that you shuffle the guys around and keep them mentally fresh.
Q) New Zealand are used to England-like conditions back home. What are the lessons you’ve learnt from the last tour of New Zealand?
Virat Kohli: Play better Test cricket, that’s all. Conditions are as potent for New Zealand as they are for us. Australian conditions should have favoured Australia, but we beat them twice in two series. It’s how you look at the situation. If you want us to board the flight from here feeling that New Zealand have the edge, then there’s no point boarding the flight. We are going to board that flight knowing that we are on equal terms, and whichever team performs well session-by-session and hour-by-hour will win that championship. We have no doubts about that.