The challenge of beating England in their own den and then walking away with the spoils is “exciting” and not daunting. The thought actually makes India captain Virat Kohli more relaxed than nervous.
On Monday, Kohli walked into his first media conference of the two-month-plus-long tour of England with one hand in his pocket. He was calm, not the busybody, full of intent as he is on match day or training. Up front, Kohli was asked whether India were ready for the “stern” test posed by England, who had recently blanked out Australia 6-0 in white-ball cricket.
Kohli admitted he understood England would “come hard”, but felt the vastly experienced Indians had enough know-how to challenge England in the limited-overs leg. Later on, he would go on to throw the challenge to England who, he reminded, had lost in all three formats during their 2016-17 tour of India.
“Playing against a good team in their conditions and at their home, to get the opportunity to be able to beat them in their home conditions, it is a point of excitement for us and not pressure,” Kohli said. “Because when they came to India last time, we won the series and the trophy is with us, and now they are on home soil and they need to play well to win it back. We will play fearless cricket and literally we have nothing to lose.”
Two weeks ago when he left India, Kohli wanted to take a walk on the streets and enjoy a coffee. Kohli wanted to do simple things like that so he and the rest of India’s players would remain in the right mindset ahead of the gruelling tour, which will last just under three months.
Just over a week into their trip, the Indians have been taking advantage of an unprecedented toasty beginning to the English summer – not limiting themselves to just sipping coffee but drinking in the pleasant sights and surroundings.
Now that they are relaxed in the mind, Kohli says India are more than ready for the England tour which comprise three T20s, an equal number of ODIs followed by a five-Test series that begins in August and will run into mid-September.
Kohli is clear that India need to replicate the mindset and game they displayed on a tough tour of South Africa where they bounced back to win the final Test even though they lost the series 2-1. Subsequently, India won both the ODI and T20I series.
And this what Kohli wants to go home with: the desire and intent to win every session of play. “Takeaway from this tour obviously will be the way we play our cricket and the mindset and the attitude that we maintain for the length of the tour that we are here. No one can guarantee results, but just wanting to win every session and every ball that we play, if we can carry that on for the length of the tour, I will be really proud as a captain and we will be really proud of ourselves as a team.
“This is what we did in South Africa till the last day of the tour: we continued the mindset from day one, even though we lost some games, but we knew we were in the games for us to be able to turn it around very quickly and that is why those results followed after.”
Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli address a press conference Associated Press
Maintaining such high, competitive spirit over such an extended period of time will never be easy especially if things do not go as India intend. In such circumstances, it would be vital to maintain mental balance and team spirit, Kohli pointed out.
“If the mindset is not right after a few days or a couple of weeks then things can get more difficult, but if we can stay positive and enjoy each other’s company and just look forward to being here for that period of time and just look forward to being on the field and play competitive cricket, I think we will be able to space it as a team and certainly take a lot from this tour when we go away.”
India are happy that the six-match limited-overs phase allows them to settle nicely into English conditions before the Test challenge. But the six matches will also allow India to figure out answers to some of the questions they have before the team thinktank and selectors sit down to shortlist the group that will participate in the 2019 World Cup which will be held in England.
Without delving too deep into the issue Kohli said one area India would be keen to fix is the middle order in ODIs. Although Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Kohli and MS Dhoni pick themselves, the rest of the top six remains undecided. KL Rahul, Suresh Raina, Manish Pandey, Dinesh Karthik and Kedar Jadhav are the contenders.
“Looking at the World Cup, we will try a lot of players in the shorter formats,” Kohli said. “The middle order in the ODIs has been something that we have been looking for, so we have a few things that we want to try out and address there as well. This next phase is going to be really important to figure all those things out and have the best balance that we need going into that big tournament, but that’s quite far away but we have a vision for it.”