Virat Kohli’s India career began here in Sri Lanka, when he made a 22-ball 12 as opener on his One-Day International debut in Dambulla in August 2008. Seven years on, Kohli returns to the country that catapulted him to international cricket for his first full series as India’s Test captain.
“I am really glad to be present in this press conference, my first pre-tour conference for me as captain. So I am really excited, our young team, we all are starting our careers together,” said Kohli on Wednesday (August 5) as he and Angelo Mathews, his Sri Lankan counterpart, fronted up to the media for the launch of the three-Test series starting in Galle on August 12.
“I am saying starting our careers because Sri Lanka is a very special place for me, I played my first international game here. My career actually kick-started from Sri Lanka, so it will always be special, close to my heart. I remember having played so many games in Sri Lanka, we know each other so well, get along well with each other because of playing each other so much. Sri Lanka is one team we enjoy playing against each other. I remember in 2008-09 we played them so much we were actually thinking of buying houses here because we were here every three months! Sri Lanka has been one team which has been generous as far as our cricketing relations are concerned. I remember last year when we had a problem during the West Indies series, they generously agreed to step in. So, I am really grateful for that. Teams like them make international cricket more competitive and enjoyable as well, play with a lot of respect and dignity as well.”
Having made all the right noises at the very start, Kohli shrugged off suggestions that the cares and responsibilities of captaincy needed him to change his aggressive approach. “I don’t find any need to do anything different,” he shot back. “I know I have been criticised a lot for being aggressive at times, but that is something that has given me success as an individual and that is something that we believe in as a team as well. I am not saying the line of discipline has to be crossed, but in terms of body language and mindset, we would like to play cricket the way we did in Australia and, I felt it gave us a really good chance to be competitive against a really good team in their home. I don’t find any need to change the way I played or play at the moment. The whole team believes in the same mindset and that is what we are going to do in the series.”
Kohli has an excellent ODI record against Sri Lanka – the Galle game will be his first Test against the neighbours – but he said there was no additional pressure on him now that he is the captain. “I haven’t really mixed the two aspects of what I have to do with the team right now, the captaincy, and the batting along with it. I have always thought in a way where I need to make sure the team wins. I bat in a very responsible way, so I don’t think I need to change too much in that aspect,” he emphasised. “As far as my batting is concerned, I am not taking any added pressure. It has to be the collective effort of the whole batting group to make sure we get good, big totals for our bowlers to have a crack at the opposition. I would obviously like to do well on the tour but more importantly, what matters is how we play as a batting group and how we complement each other and play according to the situation and the sessions demand us to do. That is going to be the priority but obviously as an international cricketer, you want to do well in every game you play and this series is going to be no different.”
Dwelling at length on turning out for India A against Australia A in the second ‘Test’ in Chennai last week when he made 16 and 45 in a losing cause, Kohli said, “It was more to do with the fact that I wanted some sort of momentum, some sort of game time coming into a series. I personally don’t believe in taking 3-4 days on tour to get going. I want to be ready 100% when I get on to a tour or get into a series so that I can prepare accordingly and I know that I have done enough work in the past couple of weeks to actually start and plan my cricket and the way it has to play. Now that I have less time to think about my own game anyways, I wanted to make the most of the time that was available and make sure that I do most of the work that my game requires before the start of the series so that I can plan with the management with regards to what the team has to do because that’s gonna take a lot of time as captain as well.”
Mathews spoke of the long association between the two countries and said like India’s last Test series in Sri Lanka, this tour too would go into history. “The last time the two teams met in a Test series, it was a memorable occasion for all of us, the legendary Muttiah Muralitharan retiring, the highest wicket-taker of all time,” Mathews said. “It was a great moment for all of us and this time once again, playing against India, the great Kumar Sangakkara is going to retire. So it is going to be a special occasion for all Sri Lankans. I am sure both teams are geared up to play some of the best cricket being played.”
Kohli was at once both tongue-in-cheek and respectful when he was asked what plans his team had for the retiring Sangakkara. “As far as cricket is concerned, the plan is to get him out as soon as possible. He would like to leave a big mark on his last few Tests. But otherwise, it will take a lot of planning to do something for Sanga, as a visiting team it would take something really special. He deserves the best of farewells. If you ask any left-hander in the world who he idolises, Sangakkara has to be one of the top three people, most of the left-handers, batsmen in general look up to. His record, in cricket, and Test cricket, has been magnificent. He has been such a match-winner for Sri Lanka. They are going to dearly miss him. I have had a great relationship with him as well. Whenever we have played against each other, we have had conversations and he is someone who will always talk about cricket and is always willing to help the younger players around. Great man, great cricketer.” (CNN IBN)