However, Kohli doesn’t play in isolation. He bats in India’s top order. It is incumbent upon them to take the risks and either score quickly themselves or let those behind them face more balls. That is the approach this team wants everyone to buy into, and Kohli is no exception.
“It’s important to find out within yourself, you know, to try and do different kinds of things. Unless you try it, you will never be able to find out [what you are capable of]. So I think it is something that we have been trying to do for a while now. Some days it might come off, some days it might not. But we don’t want to be afraid of going in and taking that extra risk. That’s how we’re going to learn as a team and that’s how we will move forward as a team. So it’s in everyone’s thought process, everyone is quite comfortable with that idea. So yeah, that’s the kind of direction the team is going to move in.”
“It is important for us to understand white-ball cricket properly,” Rohit said, disagreeing with the notion that the upcoming ODI series will be of lower priority for India in a T20 World Cup year. “I mean 50-over cricket is an extension of T20 cricket. You might take slightly fewer risks than you do in T20s, but we have to take risks. It is not as if we won’t take risks.
“We need to get used to playing freely. When you try to play freely, it comes with its failures both in individual performance and in team results, but you get to learn a lot from that. We are looking at the bigger picture, not the small picture. As it is, in India we are used to two-and-a-half-hour pictures. All these matches are crucial for us because somewhere we need to change something, and we can see things have started to change slightly.
“The biggest takeaway from this series has been the approach of each and every individual who has played in this series for us. How they have come and relished the moment in the middle, taking on the opportunity, taking on the opposition, taking that extra risk. The mindset is something that we are trying to change, and they are willing to do that. They’re willing to take that risk. And when I go and talk to certain individuals, I hear the same kind of response from them.”
One of the biggest reasons for not playing freely, for valuing your wicket too much, is insecurity because of the intense competition for slots. If the leadership wants its players to fully realise their potential, there can be no space for mixed messages. That is why we don’t expect Kohli to be penalised for going out and trying to do what the team needs from him. So all the pressure building up from outside – look at Kapil Dev’s comments, Virender Sehwag’s tweet and Venkatesh Prasad’s too – is not likely to change their view on Kohli.
“I don’t know who the experts are,” Rohit said, when asked if he found himself in an awkward position given Kohli’s lack of runs and the experts calling for him to be dropped. “I don’t even understand why they are called experts. They are watching it from outside, they don’t know what is going on the inside. We are building a team. A lot of deliberation goes behind it. There is a lot of thinking behind it. Boys are backed. Boys are given chances. People outside don’t know all these things. It is not important what is going on outside.
“If you talk of form, it goes up and down for everyone. The quality of a player never goes down. We should remember that. And we back that quality, and back them based on their quality. It has happened with me, it has happened with XYZ, it has happened with everyone, it is nothing new. When some player has done so well consistently for so long, that can’t be written off in one or two series or one or two years. It takes people time to understand it completely, but those who are running the team know the importance of that quality.”
“The captain, the coach, selector, they all have a role,” Rohit said. “Because if we do one thing, and the selectors do something else, then it will not work. It is important for those who are building the team to be on the same page. These boys need to be given the freedom. It is very important to consistently keep sending them the message to play with freedom. Because they are very talented, and that talent will be utilised only if we give them that freedom.
“We have seen some boys have been playing under pressure. We don’t want them to play under pressure. If they play with that freedom, they will do better than their own expectations from themselves. You saw an example today [Suryakumar], saw another one in Ireland [Hooda]. I won’t take names. That’s how boys emerge. It is important to let them know what we want from them as a team management. That message has to be consistent. If you say something today, something else tomorrow, it won’t work.”
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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