India captain Virat Kohli was disappointed with the fourth Test against the West Indies being washed out after just 22 overs on the first day but there were plenty of gains from the series.
In a long chat with the Indian media after which he posed for a group photograph, Kohli spoke about the reason behind playing an extra batsman in Port of Spain, how the team is shaping for the home season and being No. 1 in the world for barely a week.
Q. How do you sum up the series?
A. It’s been pretty good for us, lot of positives. A lot of things we wanted to improve on, we have. For me the biggest positive was (Wriddhiman) Saha getting runs in the lower order plus (Ravichandran) Ashwin coming good at No. 6. Those were areas that were very important for us to solidify, and we have done that in this series.
I’m pretty happy. I hope we can keep on making that aspect of our team stronger because when you are in a tough situation in Test matches those are the positions that matter a lot. We have seen teams who have done well and won consistently, their lower order has contributed, especially the bowlers. These are important runs that take the momentum away from the opposite team. That’s something we wanted to work hard on. We have done that and got the results in this series.
Q. Why did you play the extra batsman in this Test?
A. We had lost a Test in Galle (in 2015) because we were a batsman short there. In the series against South Africa at home as well, we were in trouble quite a few times because we were a batsman short. We wanted to try out this combination. If we play four specialist bowlers back home, when we feel we don’t have the need for the fifth bowler… if you play three spinners on spin friendly wickets that should get the job done. Even if you play two spinners and two quicks, Rohit (Sharma) and (Murali) Vijay can come in and bowl 10 overs for me.
Away from home, you need all your best bowlers because you don’t know what the conditions will do or how the wicket will behave. That is an aspect that we felt, against the strong teams that we are going to play against at home, world-class sides, they are going to capitalise on those windows of chance that we give them. This was something we wanted to try, in case we want to play with this combination going ahead the team should be comfortable with it. And they should know how to play in this situation as well. If you play with only one combination teams are going to start planning better against you. You need to be flexible. Unfortunately we couldn’t get game time.
Q. Is 2-0 fair representation of how the teams stacked up before this series?
A. The amount of cricket we played, I think it’s a pretty fair representation. Jamaica, we lost a day of cricket. We don’t want to keep thinking about ‘what if’. We have to deal with what’s in front of us. Credit to West Indies, they played really good cricket on Day 5. They showed resilience and that’s what you expect from a Test-playing nation. This game again, we didn’t have any play, so we couldn’t control the result. The other two games we won convincingly, and that pleased the whole squad.
Q. How do you feel about the fast bowling group you have at your disposal now, especially after the comebacks of Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar?
A. We have a good bunch of fast bowlers now. Apart from these five guys we have Varun Aaron who’s played Test cricket, who has lot of pace. We have Dhawal Kulkarni, we have identified a few bowlers back home as well who we want to keep fit and want to keep them up-to-date with the fitness levels required to play at this level in Test-match cricket, so that for me is one aspect that’s been really pleasing to see.
How (Mohammed) Shami’s come back as well, how Bhuvi’s (Bhuvneshwar Kumar) come back to full fitness, he’s bowling good speeds with swing as well. Ishant (Sharma) has always been consistently hitting good areas for us. You will see, with him, not having too many wickets in 3-4 innings, but suddenly he will pick you a seven-for or six-for. That’s why we back a guy like Ishant, because, against top-quality sides, he can still keep hitting those areas and he puts the batsman under pressure and that’s the reason why he’s played consistently in Test cricket for the country over the past few years.
Umesh (Yadav) has bowled wonderfully as well. The good thing is that everyone’s flexible to be played or not played according to the conditions, and that, for a captain, is obviously a very good thing, because it gives you flexibility in the bowling combination that you want to pick, plus we have enough skill among those five bowlers to play in different conditions as well, so that was one aspect after someone like Zak (Zaheer Khan) retired that was a big gap to fill, but these guys have started to take responsibility nicely, they have understood the areas that need improvement, and they have worked on consistency a lot. That’s something that I saw in this series as well.
Q. Are you disappointed a bit about losing the No. 1 ranking (to Pakistan) due to rain?
A. Well, we didn’t play for ranking, it just happened. Had Pakistan not won, you know, had we drawn the last game, then rankings are different again, so that is not something in our control. As I said in the last press conference as well, that is a very short-term incentive, it’s very short-lived because we understand the points table is very close, and as a team we think we can assess ourselves at the end of the season, not one Test match at a time.
So I wasn’t too excited when we became No. 1 because I knew that it’s pretty close, the other teams have played more games than us, and we need to play as many games. That’s what I feel, to be able to compare, after the whole season is done. That’s why I said we’ll be able to assess ourselves as a side when we finish the whole season, so it’s fine. Rankings keep going up and down, you don’t play for rankings, but you obviously want to be a very strong side in the world, and that’s always been our aim, to be the best side in the world.
Q. Does it feel like the team is finally shaping up with all the players fitting in the right places?
A. Yes, like I said before, Saha scoring runs, Ashwin taking responsibility at No. 6, these were some areas where we needed improvement. Because if you play five bowlers, you know the lower order is also confident and will take responsibility, and your top order can play more freely. They won’t be under too much pressure, and good totals will be made.
Bowlers are taking responsibility, they are not selfish. If one bowler needs to bowl in one area, he’s doing that, so that the other bowler can get wickets. And I think this is very necessary for the people in the team to be selfless. It’s the biggest quality of this team — that if someone else is taking wickets, the other bowler will bowl in one area. It’s not that he will go after wickets and spoil our plans.
Our team has developed this attitude, and we will have to keep working on the same thing as we go forward if we are to become the strongest team in the world. If we drift from that plan, and everyone gets too involved in their own personal preparation, then the team’s plan gets disturbed. We have addressed this, and everyone has responded beautifully, and that’s why we have managed to win quite a few matches in the last year and a half.