Mental Health, 2 India XIs: Key Points in Virat PC Before UK Tour
The last time India played against NZ they struggled to come to terms with conditions and lost the series 2-0.
The Virat Kohli-led Indian men’s cricket team have the chance to end their ICC trophy drought when they face New Zealand in the final of the World Test Championship in Southampton.
India is coming off fantastic series wins against Australia (away) and England (home) and will hope the momentum holds them in good stead. Mind you, the last time these two played in whites, India struggled to come to terms with conditions in New Zealand and lost the series 2-0.
In Southampton though, the stakes will be higher, and the final is likely to be keenly contested by both sides.
Right after the WTC Final, India will stay back for five more Tests against England before the players head to the UAE to complete the remainder of the IPL.
For the Ravi Shastri coached team, that will be away for a while, staying focused in restricted conditions will be a challenge but the presence of a much-improved Kohli will help.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the pre-departure press conference of Kohli and Shastri:
Is the Indian team concerned that their opponents, NZ, will have already played two Tests against England before the WTC Final? India, remember, last played a Test against England in the spin friendly conditions at Ahmedabad before the IPL commenced.
Kohli was quick to swat away any suggestions of the situation putting his team under pressure, noting that they have reached a venue a mere 3 days before the game previously as well.
"In the past we have landed in places three days prior in proper schedule and have had a hell of a series. It is all in the head. It is not the first time we are playing in England. We all know what the conditions are like. We don't have any issues with even four practice sessions heading into the game," he said.
Kohli also played down talk around tough conditions saying that the team was sure of their abilities.
"Even if you are used to conditions but don't enter the field in right frame of mind, you are going to nick that first ball and find it tough to take wickets. We are absolutely sure what we can do as a team and we all have played in England before this as well."
Long Tours and Mental Health in Bio-Bubbles
The difficulties of going from hotel room to stadium and back to the room for athletes has been well documented since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Among those speaking in favour of the need to address concerns around mental health has been Kohli himself, who yet again threw light on this before the England tour.
"With the current structure and the kind of structure we're competing inside, to be very honest for a long period of time it's very difficult for the players to stay motivated and find the right kind of mental space, you know, just confined in one area and just doing the stuff day in and day out and dealing with high pressure situations. So this will definitely become a norm of the future, where apart from the workloads, I think the mental health side of things will also come into the picture big time, because you don't have an outlet at all in today's day and age, where you are literally going to the ground, coming back to the room. You have no space where you can just disconnect from the game, go out for a walk, or go out for a meal or a coffee and say let me just refresh myself, let me just get away from the game a little bit,” Kohli said.
"I think this is a huge factor which should not be neglected because as much hard work as we've done to create this team, you don't want players falling out because of mental pressures and not having the capacity or the space to express themselves," he added.
Shastri also echoed the thoughts of Kohli, who hopes the team can disconnect for a bit after the WTC Final.
"When you have to play 5 Test matches in this environment, in 6 weeks, it's no joke. Even the fittest will need a break. More than the physical part, it's the mental part. You can be destroyed mentally being asked to do the same things day in and day out and then go out and perform. And it's not easy to recover especially if you've had a bad day … it's not the physical part of it, because of the circumstances prevailing," Shastri said.
Inaugural WTC Final
Both Shastri and Kohli were all praise for the World Test Championship and the Indian team as well for their performance which took them to the final. However, Shastri further noted that the finals could have been a best-of-three contest given the duration of the tournament.
“In the long run, a best of three final will be ideal as a culmination of two and a half years of cricket around the globe. But we have to finish it as quickly as possible because of the FTP that will start all over again,” Shastri said.
“This holds a lot of value. All of us take a lot of pride in playing Test cricket. So very happy to play in the finals,” said Kohli.
"For all of us this is like an accumulation of all the hard work of the last five-six years."
Two Indian Men's Teams
The long England tour along with quarantine rules mean while Kohli and co will be playing red-ball cricket, another India men’s team will be playing the white-ball formats in Sri Lanka in July. And head coach Shastri agreed it might just be the way forward, in such special circumstances.
"If you want to spread the T20 game across the globe then this could be a way forward. if you want cricket in Olympics, you need more teams, Shastri said.
Interestingly, in 1998, the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lampur clashed with the Sahara Cup against Pakistan. The Indian team had been split up for the first time with Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble and VVS Laxman part of a squad led by Ajay Jadeja at the CWG. For the Sahara Cup, the board sent Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad among others in a team led by Mohammad Azharuddin to Canada.
Both sides performed poorly and lost their games after which followed controversy in Canada with Pakistan.
What’s Changed for Kohli Since 2014?
Every time the Indian cricket team tours England for Test cricket, it allows a chance to look at how far Kohli has progressed since the horrendous tour of 2014. The Indian captain himself though is rather nonchalant about it whereas Shastri is assertive in his praise.
"If in 2014, you would have told me that in 2021 I'm going to play the WTC final, I would have had a tough time believing that. I have stopped looking at series as ultimate tasks or goals. It's about leading the team in the right way," said Kohli. "I don't think mindset has changed at all. Mindset was always to go out there and perform. I only see it (the previous tours) as evolution of my position in the team."
"The Kohli of 2021 is slimmer and fitter and only has five and half thousand more runs," Shastri on changes in Indian captain.
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