Virat Kohli Is Still Developing As A Captain On The Formats - Ravi Shastri > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more

Cricket news - Virat Kohli is still evolving as captain across formats - Ravi Shastri

Virat Kohli can improve tactically as a captain, says Ravi Shastri

As India finish their 2018-19 overseas schedule spanning South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand, coach Ravi Shastri - speaking exclusively to Cricbuzz - reflects on the various talking points emanating from this long engagement in a comprehensive interview.

In part one, the talking points include salient aspects of this Indian team's development, Virat Kohli's evolution as skipper and batsman, impact of Cheteshwar Pujara, the fast bowling group and how India shape up for future challenges in Test cricket.

You finished the overseas Test schedule on a high winning a first-ever series on Australian soil. Can you talk about the changes you have seen in this Indian team from 2014 to 2018, comparing with the previous overseas cycle?

The most positive thing that happened to this Indian team were two tours - the tour of Australia in 2014-15 and the tour of England last year (2018). These two tours have changed this side. They have hardened these players.

In 2014, we lost two Tests in Australia but we could have won them both. We had our chances in both. But for me the test of character came when we drew the remaining two test matches in Melbourne and Sydney. Going into the fifth day and batting the last session at the coliseum that is the MCG, and then doing that again in the last session at the SCG, it told me (about the character of this team).

It is one thing winning a Test, one thing drawing a Test, and one thing backing yourself to save a Test by batting on the last day of the game. So I knew this team is getting there. It was not quite there (in 2014) but getting there.

Since then, we have been to South Africa. Again, it was a tremendous series where we had our chances in two out of three Tests. We won one of them, lost the other.

And then the England tour, where you lost 4-1, what was the learning from that tour?

We made a lot of mistakes on that England tour. Mistakes like not seizing the important moments, ability to lose Test matches within one session with some hara-kiri and allowing the pressure to get to you. So, the learning was how do you absorb the pressure and respond if you are in a similar position. Those are the things we had discussed.

We lost 86-6, 87-7 and then 130-7 at The Oval again. Also, we didn't have luck all the time either. For example, when the whole world knew Jos Buttler was out leg before (at The Oval) but snickometer showed that there was a nick. It changes the course of a match.

Take for example, Perth Test, Virat Kohli's catch (claimed by Peter Handscomb). I have been a broadcaster. I would have said not out straightaway. We had two decisions in South Africa reversed. These are things that are not under your control.

But we are not here to give excuses. That's the one thing this team has learnt. In four years, there have been no excuses and no pointing fingers. You either win or you lose. If you lose you lose because you f****d (messed) up. Accept that. Only then will you learn from your mistakes and come back better to play better cricket.

You have said this is the best Indian side in the last 15-20 years. Can you defend that claim?

I used the phrase 'across all formats'. When I said that the endeavour is to be the best travelling team in the world, six months ago people laughed at me. When I said this is the best travelling team in the world across all formats, they laughed. Today, they know, I wasn't speaking French.

We hadn't been to South Africa before (under me), but to go there and beat them 5-1 after 25 years (in ODIs). Before that, we had won 3-1 in England (2014 in ODIs) and we won a T20I series in Australia 3-0 (2016).

In between, we went to Sri Lanka and India haven't won there ever. People talk - subcontinent, subcontinent, etc. But we hadn't beaten them in Sri Lanka in 23 years. Look at the Indian teams that have gone to Sri Lanka in the past and the players who have gone there, and the bowlers who have gone there. But still we haven't beaten them in 23 years, since 1992.

We went there and won 2-1 (2015 in Tests). Then we went again (in 2017), and we won 3-0 in Tests, 5-0 in ODIs and 1-0 in T20Is. It was a clean sweep, 9-0. It isn't happening again in a long time.

What this team has done is taken that word 'overseas' and shoved it into a bin. These players can shove it into the bin for as long as they play cricket. In four years, they have won more in overseas cricket than any other Indian team, across all formats.

Is that why you compared the Australian Test series' win with 1983 World Cup and 1985 Championship wins?

In 1983, I was in the dressing room. In 1985, I was in the dressing room. In 2018-19, I was in the dressing room. Why do I rate this? Because Test cricket is the purest form and we came to Australia as heavy weight champions of Test cricket, home and away. We were not favourites - no team can come to Australia as favourites because Australia will chew them out. But we were not underdogs to come and surprise them either. We came as number one Test side and we played as the number one Test side, and we won. We went to South Africa as champions, and we lost 2-1. We went to England as champions, and we lost 4-1. That scoreline...till today I don't believe that scoreline because I believe it could have been easily 3-2 to England or even 3-2 to India. Easy!

So look at the schedule and at the end of it, we are still number one ranked Test side in the world by some margin, despite not playing a Test at home (in the last year against these top sides).

This is a team that has been number one in the world for last three years. How many teams have done that from Asia or can even come to boasting that? Three years is no freaking joke. This is home and away. That's why I said Australia is one of the greatest performances I have seen.

I want to see if any overseas number one team can play three series in the sub-continent - in Dubai (against Pakistan), in Sri Lanka and in India - in the same year and still survive to be number one. Unless, it is the West Indies team of the 1970-80s, that Australia side two decades ago, or the South African team in between, nobody else today can do it.

I said India is the best side travelling in the world, so tell me which other team has travelled well across formats. Which team is there, across all formats? England did well in Sri Lanka and they peaked there. But look at them now in West Indies - the consistency is missing and they are losing in two and a half days.

I said this is the best travelling Indian team in the world across all formats in the last 15-20 years. Check the records and tell me whether I was speaking French or English.

Cheteshwar Pujara was a constant during that Australia series' win. He didn't have a great first half in 2018, and was even dropped for the first Test in England in Birmingham. Why did that happen?

He was in awesome form in Australia. That guy is a quintessential professional, but there are times in everyone's careers when people go through speed breakers. And he was going through one. During that county stint he hardly got a run. Then, when we saw him at (nets in) Birmingham, there was a problem, which we told him to address. We gave him a week to address it. It would have been very easy for me to play him in that Test match after having told him that problem. But as a coach, I take the responsibility, and I said, rather than play, you work on it and address that problem. He did and the rest is history.

In Nottingham, he got 72 runs and he asked me after batting in the nets the next day (about that problem), and I said you are going to get on a roll where in the next 6-7 Tests, you will get 3-4 hundreds. He has gone and done exactly that. I told him after the Australia series in Sydney, when he won man of the series, you took me damn seriously. I meant it, but you have taken it to a new level!

What was the problem with Pujara in Birmingham?

It wasn't a technical issue. It was in his posture and the way he stood at the crease. It was a small thing, which can happen when you have played day in, and day out. I felt it was an issue. As the team management we felt that was an issue and we needed that to be addressed considering that we still had to play eight Tests overseas. We had to factor in if we wanted to take the risk of that first Test or get him right for the next 7-8 Tests. Or, take that chance of playing in all 8 Tests and he doesn't have enough time to sort that.

When did that problem creep in, South Africa?

No, it was during Pujara's county stint.

So, it wasn't that tough a decision to leave him out?

No. It was a conscious decision to leave him out so he works on that. And I will do that again if I get the results like the way I have. And the way Pujara is continuing in the Ranji Trophy, I feel like calling him from New Zealand and saying, enough Puji, take off your pads now and sit down!

And like I said earlier, he is the quintessential professional. That guy, when he gets in, he smells the leather. He doesn't let the bowler make him smell the leather. Chin music is different, when the bowler makes the ball go past you. Pujara smells the leather, whether he is playing forward or backward defensive. No one smells the leather in defence better than Pujara. You can ask him if it is Christian Dior or Armani (laughs).

One of the cornerstones for India in this overseas schedule was the pace bowling attack. You consider Yo-Yo test as a key factor in this?

Not 'one of the', it was 'the cornerstone'. The last year of Test cricket belongs to the bowlers. Pujara and Virat Kohli were outstanding as batsmen but the bowling took 136 wickets to go past Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding.

When we mentioned the Yo-Yo test a year ago, people laughed that it was criteria for selection. What they missed was that was a very important part of selection. You have to first clear that criterion and then of course you have batting, bowling and fielding skills to talk to be selected. But you have to pass that test as a benchmark.

We dropped Mohammed Shami for failing that test for the England ODIs. He got the kick up his backside he needed, went and trained, and rest is history. No one has performed better than him. If I have to single out one guy after the end of this overseas year, it is him (sic). Because to last and bowl with that intensity - 140 (kph) all the time, whichever format he has played - is a tribute to his fitness. It is an absolute tribute to his fitness, and to the Yo-Yo test.

None of the fast bowlers broke down - neither did Ishant Sharma nor Jasprit Bumrah. Ishant was brilliant with 40-plus wickets. When you have bowlers hunting in a pack, there is no breakaway with someone taking 60 and the others 20-30 wickets. When all three are in 40s, you know these guys are hunting in a pack. We always had individual brilliance but this was a sustained team effort.

A lot of people have been surprised by Bumrah's evolution as a Test bowler, including Michael Holding who had said in South Africa, Bumrah wouldn't succeed across all conditions. How has he proven everyone wrong?

He didn't surprise us, only the media. Back in October 2017, I had a chat with MSK Prasad. I told him this is the guy and Prasad was on our page. It is important for selectors to be on the same page (as the team management). I said we would not unleash him in India but in the first Test in South Africa. So people thought he played in Cape Town because Ishant got injured but that's not the case. He was the first name on the list.

And it's just his belief. More than anything it is the desire he had as an individual to play Test cricket. He wanted to play Test cricket more than any other format of the game. Go and ask him. For him Test cricket was a dream, and he would talk like 'I have to play this'.

We told him in November 2017 in NCA that 'you are going to be picked (for Tests in South Africa), so now work harder'. And the way he spoke to Bharat Arun, he said, 'it is a dream come true, never thought and all that, I lived for this, and I will give everything for it'. Arun said 'you are there and now bloody work your socks off'.

Bumrah said Bharat Arun has played a major role during his formative years. Can you talk about his action and what's unique about it?

Jasprit Bumrah defies biomechanics. Looking at him, I said he would surprise a lot of batsmen. If he could stay fit enough to bowl 20 overs in a day, he will get loads of wickets. It is because he is deceptive; by the time you pick him up, it is late. Bumrah is like Lasith Malinga when he started, or even towards the end of his career. The batsmen pick these guys late because of unusual actions. And yes, it is a tribute to the bowling coach. Arun has seen him since the age of 15 and he never tried to change his action. He just made him work on his physique so that he doesn't break down. It is massive.

And his routines, well, here you should never forget the physio Patrick Farhart and the trainer Shankar Basu, along with Arun. They are the men behind the scenes, fitness and everything. Getting the guys on the park and playing with that intensity, to keep Shami, Ishant and Bumrah on the park day in and day one, and hammer discipline in them, they deserve a lot of accolades. They will have niggles, but look at the schedule, and we are still number one.

At the same time, you have three good spinners to back up your pace attack. R Ashwin has been injured for a few matches this year, but Ravindra Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav had aptly filled in?

Yes, and I was very impressed with the way Kuldeep bowled in Sydney. Even in Test cricket, it is going to be the age of wrist spin, especially in overseas Test cricket. The way he bowled in Sydney, he becomes our number one spinner in overseas Test cricket.

Kuldeep ahead of Ashwin and Jadjeja, already?

Already! He plays overseas Test cricket and he gets five wickets, so he becomes our primary overseas spinner. Going ahead, if we have to play one spinner, he is the one we will pick. There is a time for everyone (referring to Ashwin's poor fitness record in 2018). But now Kuldeep is our frontline number one overseas spinner.

Let us talk about a couple other batsmen. Why hasn't Ajinkya Rahane been able to evolve as Kohli and Pujara have?

He flatters to deceive. But he knows deep down that he is a good enough player to convert those starts into hundreds. Sometimes when he is at the crease, he makes batting look ridiculously easy. The easiest thing in the world, the way he strokes the ball, he times it so well and he was brilliant getting 70s, 80s even in Australia. Then out of the blue he will play something (rash) and get out which could be mental fatigue.

I think this is a good time for him, 6-7 months of no Test cricket. Sometimes when you are caught in the routine of playing day in and day out, you get mentally tired. There's a time when you refuse to think or accept that there is a genuine fault. So this break will help him iron out that and come back again.

I see him converting those because he has the experience and he has been around for a long time now. He is the vice captain, an excellent team man and a brilliant fielder. There is no better slip fielder than him and he is an integral part of the team. He is a pillar of this batting line-up, as I have said before, and it is just a question of going back, clearing your mind, resting it nicely and coming back.

And what is the issue with KL Rahul? And why have you given him such a long rope despite poor scores all year?

Yes, we have backed him. But I know he is not far away (from a good score). The problem is at the beginning of his innings - he needs a start. If he gets to 15-20 runs he is as good a player as any in the world when he starts stroking. But the problem is that (getting the start) and it is something that he has to address. I think he has to go back to playing India A and it is a question of him spending time at the crease and getting runs. But I am sure he will be back, because the talent is there. It is too big a talent there to be wasted.

Since his Test success in 2015-16, Rahul has tried to remodel his game over the last couple years to suit all formats. Do you think that is a problem?

It is difficult to say that, but it could be. At times it can be. You play certain formats and you are very successful. Then you want to take that game into the purest format, which will not allow you. That's the classic example where you have to come back to Virat Kohli.

What he did in England was unbelievable - buried his ego, just lived in self-denial and did not play the game that he is used to. He got used to another sort of game that is most effective in those sort of conditions - leaving the ball, knowing where your off stump is, etc. In England, with Dukes ball swinging, you have to forget about the last ball. If you keep thinking, you will be back in the pavilion and dreaming all your life. All those qualities were fantastic to see in Virat in England.

Yes, finally talking of Virat Kohli, this has been an exceptional year for him, and he cleaned up all ICC awards whether in terms of batting or his captaincy. Can you talk about Kohli's evolution as a batsman, and as a captain, in 2018-19?

I will talk about this backwards and not the way you said it, as evolution.

Starting with the ICC awards (achieving all awards in the same year), I don't think anyone will ever do it again. It is something very rare because you need two things to happen to win all awards in a single year. You need to be a captain of a very good cricket team across formats, that allows you to win two awards as the best captain of the ICC Test team and the ICC ODI team. So obviously your team is one of the best in the world and it has never happened in Indian cricket before. So an Indian captain gets it, and I want to focus on those two awards more than the personal awards that he has won.

You will not get a repeat of that in these two biggest formats of the game. And there is no award for ICC T20 captain. So your team has to be that good that you can win those awards. Whether we get accolades from our guys back home or international media, I give two hoots. When my captain wins those two awards, that's a tribute to the team. So the boys can be at peace. And Virat knows it.

And his batting?

To carry that kind of pressure of captaincy and clean up all the individual ICC awards as well is phenomenal. We have had great players who struggled to handle pressure when they were captain. Then we had some captains who didn't know what number to bat at - when they are good enough to go at number three, but they chose to go at six or seven.

But here is a guy who is as dominant as Sir Vivian Richards. The closest I have seen to the great man. Virat is in your face, he wants to dominate and has a work ethic like no one else. Whether it comes to discipline, training, sacrifice or self-denial, it is unbelievable. I think India is lucky to have a leader of that sort. He reminds me of Imran Khan in many ways - in the way he sets the example and sets the standards, and goes about defining it in his own way and leading from the front.

Virat is special, absolutely special, for someone to get runs in dominant fashion in South Africa, in Australia and in England. England was icing on the cake. Here's a guy who has got 140 runs in 10 innings (2014) and then gets 590 runs with two masters of bowling in James Anderson and Stuart Broad. You won't get better than that with the Dukes ball. And to get those runs as captain in a team that is being beaten is phenomenal.

Like you said the team learnt from its mistakes, do you think Kohli learnt from his mistakes as captain in the past year?

As far as I am concerned, tactically, there is still room for plenty of improvement as captain. He has gotten better and better, and better, and I thought in the Australian Test series, tactically he outsmarted Australia. I still see more room across formats for him to evolve. As a captain, Virat will evolve further.

As the number one Test side, there were quite a few debutants for India in 2018. It doesn't happen too often though.

It is the most important thing because when people are number one they forget to make sure that they need to be looking at bench strength and getting right pieces in place to take the team forward for another 3-4 years. They got caught in playing the same guys again and again, till those guys are deadwood. Then you have not developed anyone, and are left looking into your cupboards to find someone who isn't deadwood.

So the way we think about it is to make the transition when there is experience. Then, with youth and experience, when there is a combination, it's a deadly one. We have had Rishabh Pant, Mayank Agarwal, Hanuma Vihari, Prithvi Shaw, Jasprit Bumrah, Kuldeep Yadav and even Hardik Pandya, who hasn't played too much. We brought him as Test all-rounder and it is there for everyone to see. The energy they bring in is different, the fielding is electric - we haven't seen an Indian fielding side like this. We are talking batting and bowling, but the difference in Australia was also fielding.

India's next Test assignment is some time away. But the Test championship will start then. What sort of plans is in place to counter a home and away Test series every season?

This is a question for the long run about next overseas cycle. I would rather treasure these three years and what we have done to stay number one in Test cricket. Playing home and away in one season is the best thing for us. We prefer that - we are yet to play at home (against South Africa, England and Australia), and we are still number one by ten points. We are trying to be ruthless. We don't play to fill in the numbers - we play to be the best in the world.

Seeing the way the future Test championship is structured, it would mean we plan and select accordingly. We have to address that but at the moment focus is world Cup. We are giving white ball cricket all the attention. After that we will address the Test championship because we have the skill, talent and bench strength to handle that.

Part two of this comprehensive interview with Ravi Shastri features India's ODI series' wins in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, their 2019 World Cup plans, and much more. It will be published on Wednesday (February 6).

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