MUMBAI: The odds were against India the last time they toured Sri Lanka in 2015, but Virat Kohli led the inexperienced side to a comeback win in the Test series which changed the team’s mindset, the captain said on Wednesday.
“That tour for us was a landmark tour,” Kohli told reporters before India’s departure for the island country, where the team will play three Tests, five One-day Internationals and a one-off Twenty20 International. “If you look at the average age of that team a couple of years back… Obviously the players have matured from there on.”
India lost the first of the three Tests against their South Asian neighbours but won the next two matches. They have since gone on to beat West Indies away and registered home victories against South Africa, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh and Australia. Kohli’s men are currently ranked No 1 in the world.
“That tour for us was start of the belief that we can win, win away from home and we have the side to win away from home,” Kohli added.
India arrived in Sri Lanka in 2015 having lost Test series in South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia, during which long-term captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni retired from the format, handing over the reins to Kohli.
The 28-year-old couldn’t lead India to a win in a one-off Test against Bangladesh, and criticism of the team reached its nadir after the loss in the first Test against Sri Lanka.
“We showed more belief in our abilities and that we could win from any situation,” Kohli said, referring to the victories in the second and third Tests. “That really turned our mindset around. From then on you can see the results.”
India’s preparation has been less than ideal this time, too, with head coach Anil Kumble stepping down last month citing a breakdown in his relationship with skipper Kohli.
Former all-rounder Ravi Shastri was named as head coach last week, while Bharat Arun was appointed bowling coach and Sanjay Bangar was named assistant coach, following Shastri’s recommendations.
Shastri said he will approach his role with a fresh mind.
“Mine will be a refresh button that will be pushed and I will carry on from where I left. I don’t come with any baggage,” the 55-year-old said. “The team has done exceedingly well over three years and they are the people who deserve the credit more than anybody else. These Ravi Shastris and Anil Kumbles will come and go. The fabric of Indian cricket will remain.”
Kohli, meanwhile, said he wants a good working relationship with Shastri after the acrimonious departure of Kumble.
“We know what’s expected and what’s on the plate,” he said.
Kohli was accused of forcing out Kumble after the spin legend resigned last month, saying his relationship with the captain had become ‘untenable’.
Kohli kept silent during the selection process that culminated in the return of Shastri, who was team director between 2014 and 2016.
Speaking to media with Shastri at his side, Kohli spoke of the captain-coach relationship and the way ahead for the top-ranked Test side.
“We have worked together for three years. I don’t think I need to understand anything else. We know what’s expected and what’s on the plate. I don’t think it will require any effort,” Kohli said.
“A lot of speculations and lot of things fly around, those things are not in my control. My job is to try and get the best out of this team along with the management and perform to the best of my abilities which I believe in,” the star batsman added.
Shastri, who has been given a two-year contract running up to the 2019 World Cup, also spoke of the need to communicate better in order for a team to prosper.
“I carry on from where I left. I don’t come with any baggage… My job is to put every player in a frame of mind where he is thinking only about his role and the team he is playing for,” said the former all-rounder.
Shastri, 55, edged other high-profile names including compatriot Virender Sehwag and Australia’s Tom Moody after a tough selection process.