In his pre-departure press conferences, Virat Kohli always sounds stern and gung-ho, like a general addressing a large public gathering before embarking on a conquest that his army is certain to emerge victorious.
He uses a lot of rhetoric too, like for instance, he says: “Don’t board the flight if you think New Zealand have an extra edge in the finals.”
It was addressed to the media, but it sounded more like what he would be telling his men in the dressing room, as they embark on a four-month trip to England that features the World Test Championship final and five Test matches against England.
He then asserts with a streak of familiar, natural defiance: “We’re going to board that flight knowing that we’re at equal terms with New Zealand.”
— BCCI (@BCCI) June 2, 2021
It’s the way he likes to build up for a series or tour, he repeatedly emphasises the winning mentality of his side, the prowess of his teammates, of not getting pressured and downplays the advantage his opponents might wield over them.
New Zealand, having played two Test matches before the World Test Championship final and having hammered India at their backyard last year, would perceptibly have an upper hand over India before the big game, vis-a-vis more familiarity with the conditions. On the other hand, India would go in with barely five practice sessions and no warm-up games, after their 10-day quarantine.
But Kohli doesn’t perceive this as a decisive disadvantage: “In the past we’ve landed three days prior to the schedule and had a great tour. Conditions are as potent for New Zealand as they are for us. Conditions in Australia should’ve favoured them too. It’s about how you look at things. It’s all in the head,” he stresses.
Not quite in the head though, as the physical conditions too would be no less arduous, from adjusting to the weather and light to the ways and whims of the Dukes ball. India are notoriously slow-starters too—they grow on as the series progresses. But Kohli reminds: “It’s not the first time we’re touring England. We have been there and played there.”
The nucleus of his team from the 2018 tour is largely intact, while some of the newbies like fast bowler Mohammed Siraj have toured England with the ‘A’ side.
He adds: “Even if you are used to the conditions, if you don’t enter the field in the right frame of mind, you are going to nick that first ball or you are going to find it tough to pick wickets. All that matters is that we have the required hunger and desire.” Another two words that Kohli spills around a lot.
— BCCI (@BCCI) June 2, 2021
Nonetheless, the English summer dawns with era-defining possibilities for him. An elusive first ICC trophy shimmers, as is a rare series win in England in what would be his third trip for a full-fledged series. There is a broad consensus that there isn’t any riper time than this for his team’s quest to become the best in their country’s history, the irresistible narrative being if not now, perhaps never.
Both Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri emphasised the magnitude of the summit clash: “It’s the biggest and toughest of events. It’s one heck of an event,” says Shastri, who asserts that in the future, ideally, the final should be a three-match affair rather than a one-match shootout. “This is like an accumulation of hard work for all of us,” says Kohli.
Pressure, in such a setting, is inevitable. Not for Kohli, whose previous tilts at ICC trophies as captain have all been futile. “There was no pressure on me previously and nor is there any sort of pressure on me now. I just want to take Indian cricket forward,” he stresses.
He tells his teammates to enjoy the moment: “It’s time to enjoy ourselves having put in the hard yards for the last five-six-seven years. Our point of view is a lot different than those (from) outside. If we think like them, we cannot perform.” “We” and “them”, “inside” and “outside”, so Kohli-like a narrative.
As enormous an achievement winning the final would be, Kohli stopped short of calling the WTC clash a “final frontier”. “I don’t think that there is any frontier for us. If we have made the WTC championship, we absolutely want to win it and then move on to the next one: restructure, plan and then again be the top side in the world. I have stopped looking at series as ultimate tasks or goals,” he says.
He struck a footballing analogy, as has been his mood in the last two weeks. “It’s like in football, if you win one Champions League, you don’t stop, you just want to keep winning. We have that kind of players, who want to keep winning,” emphasises Virat Kohli.
This is an Indian team unlike any other in the past, endowed with arguably the finest ever bowling firm in their history and with a steeliness to match their skill. As exhibited in Australia, the team has a sparkling go-gettism that has seen them through tough times and laid many a path to victory. Copping blows, biting bullets, hanging onto the last branch of a tree on the edge of the cliff, they are a team that hates to give up. The captain’s mood before the press conference only mirrors that spirit. India is all gung-ho and buoyant as they board the flight to England on a potentially era-defining summer.