Virat Kohli remains adamant in his view that there was little wrong with the pitch for the pink-ball Test in Ahmedabad, and that the game ended in two days because of poor batting. On the eve of the fourth Test – which will be played at the same venue but with the red ball in daytime – Kohli suggested, in fact, that having to switch constantly between limited-overs cricket and Test cricket has caused defensive techniques to deteriorate.
“Defence is very important,” Kohli said in his pre-match press conference. “From the pattern I’ve seen in Test cricket – take any match, if two batsmen are facing a 45-minute period of difficult bowling, are they able to score 10 runs and survive without offering any chances? I think because of the influence of white-ball cricket, we’re getting results in Test cricket, but we also have this byproduct that defence, which is also a part of the game, is getting compromised.
“This is why people say score 300-350 quickly. I don’t think they focus on that grind of four or five sessions these days, probably because they don’t focus on defence so much, because they’re needing to switch formats, and the game is very fast-paced.
“I think there is a requirement for skill in playing on spinning tracks, and not necessarily just playing the sweep. You find your own method, and from my point of view, my best solution is a defensive shot, where I know I can defend and the ball won’t go to silly point or short leg, and that’s an aspect of the game that’s fallen behind.”
Pitches remained the major theme of his press conference, but Kohli addressed a number of other issues too, including questions relating to a couple of members of India’s squad.
On whether turning tracks are subject to unfair criticism
“There’s always too much noise and too much conversation about spinning tracks. I’m sure that if our media is in a space to contradict those views or present views that say that it is unfair to criticise only spinning tracks, then I think it’ll be a balanced conversation. But the unfortunate bit is that everyone sort of plays along with that narrative and just keeps making it news till the time it is relevant.
“A Test match happens, and if we win on day four or five no one says anything, but if a match finishes in two days, everyone pounces on the same issue. It just becomes an issue to talk about. We lost in New Zealand on day three, in 36 overs. I’m sure none of our people as well wrote about the pitch. It was all about how India played badly in New Zealand. And none of the pitches were criticised. No one came and saw how much the pitch was doing, how much the ball was moving, and how much grass there was on the pitches. “
On whether the red ball will behave differently on the Motera pitch compared to the pink one
“I don’t understand why the cricket ball, the cricket pitch, all these things are brought into focus. Why don’t we just focus on the fact that the batsmen were just not skilled enough on that pitch to play properly, and it was a bizarre display of batting by both teams in a Test match, and I will continue to maintain that, because I’ve played this game long enough to understand what happens on the cricket field. And it’s not a change in the ball colour or the change in the cricket ball, it’s still round, it still weighs five and a half ounces, so I don’t know what difference it makes suddenly.
“The surface in Chennai was different in the [previous] game. This track has more pace than that. You could see with the fast bowlers as well, none of the balls went through on the Chennai track like it did for Ishant in those first couple of overs or for Bumrah as well. So the track in general has a bit more pace, and that’s the result of the clay that’s been laid in on the pitch. So it’s very important to understand these small-little details of the game.”
On whether there’s a need for boards to ensure pitches don’t provide undue home advantage
“It would be lovely if you asked us this question on an England/New Zealand/Australia tour. Not when you’ve seen two turning pitches in India, so that question for me is irrelevant at this point of time.”
On Cheteshwar Pujara being dismissed by left-arm spin in three out of five innings
“The fact of the matter is, till about four years ago, he was criticised for not scoring away from home. He was [spoken of as] only a home-track bully, and only scored in India. Now he’s performing for you everywhere outside of India, and a few innings where every batsman has struggled, barring maybe Rohit and a couple of innings from [others] – Ash (R Ashwin) played well, Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane) got a fifty, I got a couple – it’s not been easy. So if you now start criticising his game at home, then I don’t think that’s fair on him.
“He’s a world-class performer, has been for us for a long period of time, and I will keep saying this again and again – along with Jinks, Pujara is our most important Test player, he will continue to be so. Every cricketer, every batsman, faces some sort of challenges in terms of a couple of areas where they might find a need for improvement, that happens to all of us constantly, and he’s a very responsible guy who will first and foremost go into the nets, bats more than anyone else to iron out his flaws, and I’m sure that he’ll keep solidifying his game moving forward, but there’s absolutely no concern whatsoever when it comes to Cheteshwar Pujara. “
On Kuldeep Yadav’s limited opportunities
“There’s no issues with skill, there’s no issues with headspace. His game is absolutely precise, bowling better than he’s ever bowled before. [It’s about] combinations. We need to make sure that we cover all facets of the game, and we have our strongest balanced squad on the park. See, if a [Ravindra] Jadeja is playing and you’re talking about a third spinner, then a Kuldeep comes into the picture way more because of Jadeja’s experience with the bat, and the number of times he’s done the job for the team.
“Right now we’re going in with Ash, Washy (Washington Sundar) is playing, Axar [Patel] is playing. Washy has scored a few runs, Axar is relatively new to Test cricket, so yes, they can contribute with the bat, but it’s not the same experience as a Jadeja, so your combination becomes different. When a Jadeja comes in you know, you’re assured that he’s responsible, he’s going to do the job for the team, and he knows that he’s done it again and again and again, so you can play a Kuldeep who’s primarily a wristspinning bowler. But yeah, it’s all about combinations. If people are not good enough, they won’t be part of Team India. It’s as simple as that. He’s a very, very skillful bowler, and he’ll always be in consideration to play whatever game is in front of us, purely because of what he brings with the ball, and yeah, his game is as good as it’s ever been.”
“A Test match happens, and if we win on day four or five no one says anything, but if a match finishes in two days, everyone pounces on the same issue. It just becomes an issue to talk about”
Virat Kohli on criticism of turning pitches
On whether it’s right for teams to rotate their players in Test cricket
“I feel any format of the game is the right place for rotation. No human being can possibly go on for that many games throughout the year. Everyone needs to find windows of having some time off, having a break, especially with the bubble format, and the kind of systems you have to follow in the bubble, it can get very monotonous, and it’s very difficult to keep yourself excited about small things. I think these are things that need to be considered for as long as we play in the bubble. Outside of that, I think it depends on where you stand physically, more than mentally, but I think till the bubble exists, we need to keep the mental factor in the picture as well, because mental fatigue could be a huge, huge factor – playing within a restricted area, moving around within a restricted area.
So yeah, these are things that one needs to be aware of, and hence our bench strength becomes way more important, because if you have guys who are hungry, ready, who read the game well, who understand where the game is heading, and are brave enough to take on opportunities or situations to take the team forward, then you can rotate very easily. You know there are 11 more guys who are ready to win a Test match for India, or a one-dayer or a T20, and that’s exactly what we’re striving towards, and we have a clear roadmap as to where we need to go in the next 4-5 years, so that our transition is not difficult at all – guys are ready, people can take breaks accordingly, as and when it’s required, and yeah, we have a clear plan that we need to move forward with. “