Sri Lanka v India: Players mature quickly under new team culture – Kohli

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This Indian team has rid itself of a culture in which newcomers were picked upon and judged, according to Virat Kohli. Though he didn’t specify whether that culture was something that existed in teams before his captaincy, or the one that Anil Kumble coached (and of which Kohli was captain), the assessment has the potential to be interpreted as a dig at a previous tenure.

Virat Kohli: “In this team, we are more like a bunch of friends playing together rather than a senior or a junior.” (Associated Press photo)

Though the whitewash of Sri Lanka could be seen as a continuation of a sterling run of Test successes, with Ravi Shastri having replaced Kumble as coach, a line has been drawn under that tenure and this. Kumble left ultimately because of what he cited as an “untenable” relationship with Kohli, and after some players had complained of his “intimidating” style of man-management.

And whether or not Kohli was referring to those issues, he was clear that a new culture was emerging. “Culture can only be built when everyone buys into it,” Kohli said. “And the way that can happen is when you don’t have any judgements, people coming in and if you don’t look at them with a critical eye, watching everything they are doing and trying to pick on small things. I think that is something that we have gotten rid of totally.

“In this team, we are more like a bunch of friends playing together rather than a senior or a junior. We don’t even think of the number of games an X has played or a Y has played within the change room. It is all about who you see every day. You can joke around with anyone inside the group, and that I feel is something that makes me feel proud of this particular unit. The way we have embraced each other and accepted each other with our different personalities and individuality, and that is the reason why people coming in feel like they don’t have to do anything different from what they know already. It gives them an opportunity to go out there and believe in themselves and you never know. If you keep the environment like that, then people will take lesser time to go out there and become mature cricketers because they don’t feel any pressure from the group itself. That I feel is something we all are proud of because we have been able to create that together.”

This series, though, was more a test of the team’s ruthlessness than its unity in the face of adversity. Sri Lanka provided them no contest, and the series was done and dusted in under 11 days of play. On the final day of the series, having enforced the follow-on and needing nine wickets to win, Kohli found a novel way to keep the team interested. There can be no more damning observation on the plight of Sri Lanka.

“We spoke about it in the morning, treat this as day five of an away tour, probably a series-defining Test match where we’ll have to get an opposition out within 60-70 overs, so take that attitude on the field and try to wrap up things and understand how that can be done,” Kohli said. “We wouldn’t have situations all the time where we’ll get 600, 500 and then we’ll have a chance to bat again and give a large total, sometimes we will have to enforce the follow-on and it could be series-defining. It could be something special for the team. So try making those habits from here on, let’s start being a bit more uncomfortable as a team, embrace pressure situations, look to put in that extra effort for the team.

“Also, understanding that we don’t play Test matches till December now, so… The guys were willing to give it all, and we took this as an opportunity to learn as a group together. So we keep finding different situations and scenarios where we can challenge ourselves as a team first before we look at the opposition. Again today was another opportunity for us to challenge ourselves, and I’m glad the way the guys stood up for it.”

In the same breath, Kohli was asked how different it was to come out of a high-intensity series against Australia into this low-key contest where the motivation had to come entirely from within. “If you differentiate your level of motivation and intensity according to oppositions, then you’re judging oppositions differently,” Kohli said. “The reason we’ve been successful so far is because we treat a cricket game like a cricket game, which is executing the abilities that we can execute to the best of our potential, not looking at who we are playing against.

“I think that is the attitude that has kept people hungry, you know you won’t see reckless cricket regardless of who we are playing. We want to consolidate every situation, we want to make sure that we’re correcting things along the journey and that’s the mindset we want to take forward also. You can’t raise your intensity or lower your intensity according to your oppositions because that I feel is disrespecting the sport.” (ESPNCricinfo)

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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