Come Friday morning (IST) and Team India will kick start their international assignment after an eight-month-long hiatus with a three-match One Day and Twenty20 series against hosts Australia. In many ways, the recently concluded Indian Premier League has been the prelude to a more intense rivalry.
Virat Kohli is no stranger to the demands of a tour like this, rather he has thrived each time in the face of challenges posed at him on the three previous tours Down Inder. This series, however, will not just be about Kohli reasserting his class and reputation as the best in all formats—it will also throw some young players into the deep end and will determine whether they sink or swim.
Responding to mailed queries on the eve of the ODI series, Kohli said each tour to Australia had helped him evolve and raise the bar and this tour would be an ideal opportunity for some young guns to do the same. The likes of Sanju Samson, Shubman Gill and Mohammed Siraj are waiting to grab an opportunity. He added that senior bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami will be rested in a few matches in the white ball series to manage their work load going into a demanding four-Test series later.
Excerpts from the interaction:
Q) How different will it be playing in front of crowds after being in quarantine hubs and playing to empty stadiums?
It’s a great opportunity, everyone is really excited to play in front of crowds. It is something which was missing since we came back to action, but we also understand it’s a difficult situation. It’s a big boost for all players, certainly [something] I have enjoyed over years. It is something which cannot be replicated so we are very excited to get back to a stadium full of noise and fans.
Q) What is the most enjoyable aspect of playing cricket in Australia—in any format
Playing cricket in Australia comes with its own challenges. It can be a very intimidating place if you are not ready mentally and with the skill to take on the challenge. It’s a place I love coming to over the years. They play cricket very hard, the crowd can be tough on players travelling and rightly so. Australia exercises the home advantage well. Fans appreciate if you do well too. It’s like a going through a hard test, there is appreciation and acknowledgement. The people here are nice and welcoming.
Q) Is it fair to say every tour to Australia has coincided with your evolution as person and cricketer? What will it mean for Virat Kohli of 2020?
I have come here through different stages of my career and life. Starting with 2012—it was a start to my international career as a Test player. I was a youngster with a lot of hope and faith. The second time was a difficult situation, I was coming off 2014 England tour—it was difficult and daunting but it revealed a lot to me about my self as a person and my game. It took my confidence to the next level. 2018 was very memorable for us—winning the Test and ODI series and drawing the T20 series. We were able to achieve our goals in a difficult place. Now, it’s about fulfilling my responsibility on the field. I take a lot of pride in playing cricket on the field. I don’t come to any place to prove anything to anyone, just to make sure that as captain and leader, I take the team forward. My growth is the only focus on and off-field. Its been a full roller coaster of a journey coming to Australia.
Q) It is a short series. Will it give you a chance to test young blood?
Yes, we have discussed those things—looking to give opportunities to young boys who are eager and waiting to do well in Australia. It’s a chance for them to realise something new about their own game, an important series for them as individuals and for us as management group to see them play to the best of their abilities. They are a bunch of very talented guys, looking forward to seeing them.
Q) Will the workload of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami be managed in the white ball series?
Of course, yes. [They] both bowled very beautifully in the IPL. Younger guys getting chance comes into play. For India tour, you have to manage workload and maintain a fine balance. We did that last few years so that our bowlers have been able to do well. It is a crucial factor.
Q) How important is it for India to start well in the white balls series?
I don’t think there is any extra desperation or need to think along those lines for us as a team. Last time, we were successful because we focussed on our processes and that doesn’t change. Australia will come at us really hard: We expect that and [are] ready for that, ready for tough cricket.