India were overawed by the conditions in their 2-0 series defeat to New Zealand, a fear Virat Kohli said he has never seen in any of the times he has captained the side. And it’s all in the mind, according to him. Kohli said that they lost the battle in their heads, and needed to be more positive and clear-headed when confronted with similar situations and conditions.
Kohli was asked what mistakes his side needed to rectify. “Having clarity, as batsmen,” he said. “We have performed in difficult conditions in the past as well, and we understand that we were in a good frame of mind when we were playing in those conditions at that period. I think it’s about trying to get into that space more often than not. And for that you need to think positively on every day of the Test match, every situation, every session that you are a part of.
“[It’s] something we failed to do as a batting unit, and I truly believe that we made too much of the conditions from the first day onwards of the first Test: overcast, a bit of dampness on the pitch. We never used to speak of these things before. So yeah, it can creep in every now and then, it’s about not letting it grow, not letting it become a norm, something that we as a side have not done at all. We don’t go into conditions and think that we might not be able to execute what we want to. We’ve always gone in with a very positive outlook, and your skill follows how you think.
“If you’re not clear in your head, then the feet don’t move. You’re not quite sure whether to play the shot or not, leave the ball or play the ball. I think these sorts of things can creep in, and which have crept in in this series. It’s something we have recognised already. The good thing is that everyone’s understood what’s happened and is very keen to improve it. It’s all mental. I don’t see any problem with anyone’s game as such. It’s mental, and it’s something that can happen at this level and we just need to accept it and iron it out and move ahead.”
Kohli spoke of the importance of not thinking negatively. “If you are taking pressure, then all kinds of things can feel wrong whether it is personal skill or playing as a team, but when you are just optimistic about what you want to do… say you walk out to score runs rather than thinking of survival or thinking of conditions too much, then you will bat accordingly. Similarly as a team if you are worried about what might happen in a session, whether it will go our way or not, then invariably it does not.
“So I think the outlook as far as I am concerned, and as far as I saw things happening, was not ideal for us in this series. We were not positive enough, we were not brave enough in moments, which we have done in the past. In the crunch moments [previously], we have just gone for it; even though we have lost, still we compete. Those are things for me that need to be ironed out. Skills follow your mindset, simple as that. You can bat as well as you want, but as long as you don’t think right, then you are not going to be able to do what you want to do. More about ironing those things out mentally and going ahead positively and taking challenges head on.”
When asked how his team would process this result, Kohli said it would be important for the players to accept that they had made errors with their approach and execution. “Acceptance is the first word,” he said. “These kind of mini phases [in matches], or these times as a team, or as individual, you learn to process them better.
“It doesn’t mean that they stop coming or stop happening. You understand what you can learn from them, and put your head down and work hard. The only communication that has happened, and that needs to happen, is ‘don’t forget what has happened, learn from it, and don’t delve into it too much.’
“So it is a delicate balance. You can’t ignore it, plus you can’t delve on it every day. You can’t just keep thinking about the same thing otherwise you can’t move forward. But also, if you are in denial, then you will probably not correct those mistakes either. So it is about recognising what went wrong, and having the capacity and acceptance to correct those things and to work on those mistakes, which as a side we are all willing to do.
“There are no easy wins. There are no givens at the international level. You have to earn every win. And this time we were just not good enough as a side. We have accepted that before anyone else, and we don’t have any shame in admitting we were not good enough; we didn’t play our best cricket, not even close to it.”
Cheteshwar Pujara, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane went into the series as one of the most experienced and highly rated middle orders in world cricket, but none of them really got going, with Pujara and Rahane ending up with averages in the 20s and the captain enduring a shocker of a series, scoring 38 runs in four innings at 9.50.
Kohli was asked about Rahane, specifically, and whether he was under pressure as a result of his performances on tours away from the subcontinent and the West Indies in the recent past.
“Jinks (Rahane) is one of those players who has been very solid for us in Test cricket,” he said. “I don’t look at averages and numbers and those things too much. It is about impact performances. Has he been able to make enough impact performances for the team? The answer for me is yes. Whenever we have required an important performance from him, more often than not he has delivered.
“Also have to figure out how many guys in your team do average more than 42-43-44, so if you have a solid middle order, you need to make sure those guys are playing together enough. Few games here and there, if you don’t execute those things properly, it doesn’t mean you become bad players. So Jinks for us, we are not even thinking about those kind of things. He has been solid for us. He has put his hand up on many occasions when the team has been in trouble so there are no issues there.”
When asked whether this tour was evidence that India’s batting line-up was becoming too dependent on their captain’s performances, Kohli pointed to Pujara’s brilliant run on the 2018-19 tour of Australia as a counter-example.
“It’s not like that at all,” Kohli said. “If you take the Australia series, Pujara made the biggest contribution there. It was the first time we won a series there. If you take things in isolation, you will find lots of things to use as excuses, that this didn’t happen or something didn’t happen because of that.
“When you play collectively, your aim is to put 300-350 on the board. Whether five people score 50-60 each or one person makes 150, like Pujara did in Australia, our aim to have a big score on the board. If that doesn’t happen collectively, you must think about that rather than thinking what individuals have done. No one thinks like that. You play as a team and you want to do well as a team.
“I have never thought like that and my attempt is always that… in cricket, you live every moment as a batsman, so my attempt is always to do as well as I can, and that’s how everyone thinks. It’s not like someone turns to another person and says, ‘Oh, my responsibility is not as much’. In a team, you have to take responsibility collectively rather than single out individuals.”