Mumbai: After Test series defeats in South Africa and England, Australia tour remains India's only opportunity to make a mark overseas in a year that coach Ravi Shastri had described as 'defining period for Indian cricket'.
The Virat Kohli-led side began 2018 riding on high expectations after extraordinary performances at home in previous years but succumbed to 1-2 and 1-4 series defeats in South Africa and England respectively.
Wary of the expectations and challenges ahead, Kohli, in the pre-departure press conference on Thursday in Mumbai, said the team has made progress over the previous overseas tours but added that there's still a a lot of room for improvement.
"We definitely have made decent progress. But there is still a lot of room for improvement. That’s something we realise as a team also. The thing is we understand within the group what we need to work on. So it is up to the individuals to take ownership and responsibility about the things that are explained and laid out from the team's goal point of view. That can only be achieved if individuals go and take responsibility," Kohli said to a group of reporters.
The skipper said that the plan has been laid down in front of players and urged his teammates to take up more responsibilities as India aim to win their maiden Test series in Australia.
"From the management point of view, things are explained in a proper way where people are told what needs to be done in a situation. But no one can tell me what to do on every single ball. When you are playing every ball, the focus has to be precisely on what the team wants. The moment it falls, may be because of some people feel the pressure of not scoring runs or the situations, it varies. It is very important to get your focus back to what the team wants. Do something special and bail the team out. When you win Test matches, you see those kind of performances," Kohli said.
"It is about remembering them. What we did right and why we went a Test match. It’s not about forgetting a victory and enjoying it. It is about learning from them as well. So that we can repeat and that’s consistency. We need to be consistent as a team. Each individual has to sit down and think what they did — whether we lost or won. That’s something spoken already. The vision will be provided, the decision-making is a individual thing, which everyone has to do."
Kohli was the highest run-getter during both South Africa and England tours but failed to find any consistent or substantial support from the other end. On Thursday, the captain made no bones about what he wants from his fellow batsmen.
"We have a great bowling attack but the batsman needs to step up. Which we have spoken as a team again after England and everyone is keen to correct the mistakes and put in a complete performance. And a complete performance that will last a series. For that to happen people will have to take more ownership. Our focus more will be on how the batsmen bat well together on this tour because the bowlers are in a great space and they know what they want to do," said Kohli.
"The lower order contribution is crucial as we saw in England. Their lower-order contributions was more than us and that made the difference. That's where we want guys to be fearless. That's the best place to bat. If they get going, they can literally change the whole course of the game or course of the whole series. That's something we need to tighten up, especially after England. That's something we are looking forward to as a whole batting unit, from top to bottom, to bat well together. Not necessarily look for individual performances but bat well together."
India-Australia series have always served some extremely intense matches, however, the team from Down Under have adopted a more mellow approach since the ball-tampering scandal.
Kohli said he's completely "okay playing without the altercation," but will give it back to the opposition if they are aggressive in their approach.
"When it comes to getting engaged in argument on the field or fight, I have been completely okay playing without the altercation. You don’t find the need for all that. We were always the ones giving it back and never starting it, so as long as it doesn’t start, we have no problem in focusing on our game and do what we need to. We don’t necessarily need to look for something. If they want to look at a certain way, we will reciprocate it," Kohli said.
India are scheduled to play 3 T20Is, 4 Tests and 3 ODIs in Australia with series beginning on 21 November with the T20Is.
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Kohli, accompanied by head coach Ravi Shastri, addressed reporters ahead of the squad's flight to the United Kingdom, where the side will play the ICC WTC final followed by a five-match Test series against England
"When it comes to finals we will give our best and we know that our team has the potential to do well and win the Championship," Pujara said.
New Zealand look like the team to beat after they humbled hosts England in a two-match series. It was their first triumph on English soil in 22 years.