Cricket

Rift? In world of fantasy scenarios, smiling Virat Kohli swats away rumours as India aim to regroup on West Indies tour

  • Jigar Mehta
  • July 30th, 2019
  • 13:42:36 IST

"Firstly, sorry for the wait, baarish bohot hai isliye hum 15 minutes late ho gaye, sorry. (Sorry for making you wait, we are late by 15 minutes because of heavy rains)"

Just as the West Indies pre-departure press conference is about to get underway, Virat Kohli interrupts the media manager and starts the briefing with an apology for being late. Amidst the incessant blinding flashes and shutter clicks, the Indian captain waits patiently, smiles, gives a thumbs up to someone in the crowd of journalists, photographers and cameramen as the chaos slowly settle down inside Ballroom 4 of the ITC Maratha Hotel in Andheri.

Virat Kohli (R) speaks as Ravi Shastri listens at the pre-departure press conference. AP

Virat Kohli (R) speaks as Ravi Shastri listens at India's pre-departure press conference in Mumbai. AP

Finally, the first question pops up. It is about his thoughts on the World Test Championship and the challenges. The cameramen and photographers are still trying to settle down. Mobile phones have been asked to be kept on silent. Kohli patiently hears the question amidst the noise, looks at the video cameras and enquires, "chalu karoon? (Should I start)" with a wry smile.

Throughout the 20-minute press-conference, Kohli was relaxed and cheerful. He was unperturbed by the questions about a rift in the team and responded calmly. He even responded with a helpless apologetic smile when asked about the middle-order in the ODIs (a question he faced multiple times in the last three months).

The Indian captain seemed in a good mood. And provided a glimpse of his relaxed state of mind and the first few minutes of the press-conference set the tone. It looked as if he had hit the refresh button post the World Cup disappointment and that's what he wants his team to do as well.

The World Cup is in the past now. New challenges lie ahead with the World Test Championships starting from 1 August and the T20 World Cup next year. It's time to regroup and start afresh in the Caribbean.

"Yes, from the point of view of us not making it through the finals of the World Cup and bowing out, it is an important time for the team to regroup, and come together as a side," Kohli said during the media meet. "As you said, there is T20 World Cup next year, there is always something to look forward to. We all were disappointed with not going through to the finals and probably winning the World Cup, but you have to move on and accept defeat as well. Move forward and look forward to new things."

The Caribbean tour will kickoff preparations for the T20 World Cup. The selectors have picked a cluster of youngsters like Rahul Chahar, Navdeep Saini, Deepak Chahar, Washington Sundar, Shreyas Iyer in the squad for the T20s and it's their chance to shine and stake a claim with middle order and bowling places up for grabs. Kohli is excited by the prospect of working and guiding the young talent.

"West Indies obviously is a great place to go and play cricket. It is a relaxed place, we all have enjoyed playing cricket there," Kohli said. "The T20s as you have seen, the squads, when I met the selectors the basic message from them was to try out a few players that they had in mind, and I think it is a very exciting opportunity for all the guys who are stepping in for the first time.

"The ODI side is more or less balanced and we have been really doing well, the Test side, needless to say the kind of performances we have put in, so I am particularly excited about the three T20s, because as I said new lot of players coming in, some players who have done really well in the format and shown great composure under pressure in tournaments like IPL, domestically as well. So it’s a great marker for all those guys and us as a team as well to have them in the squad.

"With new players coming, it is an opportunity for them to establish their skills. For me as a captain to have new players in the side, get them together, I think international cricket always presents you with opportunities and challenges which I always look forward to."

As Kohli spoke about regrouping after the World Cup, the conversation, naturally, veered towards the opposite end of the spectrum. The news cycle had been dominated by rumours of a rift within the Indian camp, especially between Kohli and Rohit Sharma. Reports of Rohit unfollowing Kohli's wife, Anushka Sharma, on Instagram, had added fuel to the rumours of problems between the senior players of the Indian team since team's exit from the World Cup. Kohli authoritatively swats away the rumours like he does to one of those outside the off stump balls with that outrageous whip over long on.

"Dekhiye maine bhi bohot kuch suna hai pichlele kuch dino me, toh sunane mei toh bahar se hi milta hai (I have also heard a lot of things in the last few days. Now you can only hear things from outside.)," Kohli replied with a smile after being asked about the rumours of rift and how it impacts the team atmosphere.

"If the dressing room environment had been bad, then we couldn't have possibly played the quality of cricket that we played," Kohli continued.

"Because I know how the dressing room environment and trust factor becomes important to succeed in international cricket. The journey that we have had in ODIs, in Tests (from No 7 to 1) and T20s, that wouldn't have been possible without camaraderie, respect and understanding," he added.

The reporter tried to inform Kohli that the news of rift came out in the last few days (the news did not belong to the period Kohli is talking about).

"Mai aata hu idhar (I'll answer this)," Ravi Shastri intervened in his typical authoritative voice.

"Hum jis tarike se khelta hai (the way this team plays), no individual is bigger than the game. Not me, not him, nobody in the team. And the way they play is in the interest of the team and you cannot have the kind of consistency across formats if you have, like you mentioned, rifts or divisions, it is not possible. So when you play on the cricket field, in that dressing room, I have been a part of it for some time and none of that nonsense is there."

Kohli listens attentively and smiles.

A question later, Kohli was asked whether he categorically denies all reports (of a rift) that are coming in (reports like players' wives are fighting, management companies are fighting).

Shastri started off answering the question, even before the reporter completed the question, with, well, more than a hint of sarcasm. "Very soon you will read also wives batting and bowling...then what you want me to do?"

Kohli takes over after having a laugh.

"No, I'll answer that. In my opinion, it is baffling, to be honest. It is absolutely ridiculous to read such stuff that comes out there...I have been to a few public events and the public sentiment that I feel, everyone comes up and says – 'aap log kya khele (You guys played really well), we have so much respect for you' and here, we are feeding off lies, we are overlooking facts, we are turning a blind eye to all the good things that have happened, and creating fantasies and scenarios in our head and we want to accept that this is the truth.

"And I have seen this for too long, and it is bringing personal lives into the picture, it is disrespectful after a moment, honestly. I have played the game for 11 years, Rohit has played for 10 years, it is bizarre that people are creating this stuff on the outside when the change room environment...aap log aaiye toh change room me, aap dekhiye, ek Kuldeep Yadav se kaise baat kari jati hai, ek MS Dhoni, jo senior hai unse kaise majak kiya jata hai…aap dekhiye aake mahol kaisa hai…yaha pe aake hum aapko video bana ke nahi dika sakate (You come to the dressing room and see how the environment is. See for yourself, how a certain Kuldeep Yadav is spoken to, how we joke around with a senior like MS Dhoni, you come and see the atmosphere. We can't come here and show you videos). So it baffles you as a leader, as a coach, and as a team when lies are being floated around and they are made to look like they are believable, it is actually disrespectful to be very honest."

The next question is whether the whole scenario makes it awkward for Kohli and Rohit going forward.

Kohli gets a little bit tense for the first time during the interaction.

“See I will tell you something about myself, if I don’t like a person or if I am insecure of a person, you will see that on my face or in my behavior towards the person ... and that is how simple it is. I have always praised Rohit whenever I had an opportunity because I believe he is that good, we have had no issues, right. As I said, it is baffling to be honest, I don’t know who is benefiting from all of this, we here are living, breathing working towards getting Indian cricket to the top and here people want to get some kind of pleasure in bringing it down, I don’t understand how that works.

"I mean you work hard for four years to bring the team from 7 to 1 and after four years what are we talking about, I mean, we have to reflect as cricketers, I am sure that everyone can take a step and think are we really creating something that’s is not out there, because within the team as I said it is for everyone to see what kind of camaraderie and friendship (is there) and it is evident on the field. You can’t play with that kind of passion, if people don’t get along with each other, it is as simple as that, so as I said it is baffling and it is time that we focus on taking Indian cricket forward and not on things that are not even there at the moment."

The press conference ends with Shastri explaining how it's been a fabulous ride for the Indian team in the past 18 months right from the South African tour.

And as Kohli and Shastri are about to leave with things packed up, a reporter gets up and asks again, "Aapne Rohit se baat ki in sab baare me? (Have you spoken to Rohit on all these matters?)

"Jaa rahe hai, karenge baat sir, aur kya (We are going to US and Carribean, will talk sir)," Kohli signs off the way he started, with the smile.

Updated Date: July 30, 2019 13:42:36 IST

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