India had played just one T20 International leading up to the competition, and had very little other taste of the 20-over game, which made its success in South Africa more sensational. That epochal victory set the stage for the grand entry of the Indian Premier League, easily the most successful and coveted domestic T20 league in the world.
It’s little short of ironic, therefore, that despite having rubbed shoulders with the best in the world and having stacked up plenty of experience in the shortest version, India hasn’t been able to stamp its authority on the global stage. In the last three editions of the ICC World T20, India hasn't made it to the knockout stages, and as a unit, it plays less T20I cricket than any other major team.
In all, India has played only 46 T20Is since their first game in December 2006, the least among the eight main Test-playing nations and 12 fewer than West Indies, seventh on the chart. Pakistan leads the way with 78 matches, with New Zealand having played the second-most T20Is, 71.
Between the last ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka in September-October 2012 and now, India has played just five T20Is. Through all of 2013, it played a solitary fixture, against Australia in Pune in October, winning a tall-scoring game by six wickets. It’s impossible for a team, however talented, to come together as a unit when it plays as infrequently as India does, something Virat Kohli acknowledged, even if only most guardedly.
“You can call that a factor because we haven’t had too many Twenty20 games as a unit but whatever games that we have played – against Pakistan in Ahmedabad and against Australia as well, we had two great games and we had a good game against England too,” he said. “We have played a few good games as a unit, I wouldn’t say too many, but whenever we have played as a unit, we have played well. It is a chance for all the younger guys – everyone is young but the ones who are comparatively inexperienced – to express themselves. That is something you need at the international level to get out of that shell they might find themselves in, to shed that hesitation that you have in your mind. This might be just the wonderful platform for all those guys to express themselves. I see it as a wonderful opportunity to jell together as a unit in such a big tournament. If it goes well for us, it will be lovely.”
India played brilliant cricket for the most part in the previous tournament in Sri Lanka but paid the price for one bad bowling day against Australia, partly influenced by a brief spell of rain that made it difficult for the three-pronged spin attack to even grip the ball properly. “Last time, it was pretty unfortunate. We lost only one game and we were out of the tournament because of run rate and other factors,” Kohli said. “Ours is a very exciting group (which includes Pakistan, Australia, West Indies and an as yet unidentified qualifier).
“(But) I think people have been too hard on all the inexperienced guys, put too much pressure on them to deliver every game they go out there and play. People need to have a bit of patience. It’s not like a guy who has played five-six games can go out there and play an innings like an AB de Villiers or a Michael Clarke around the world would play. We need to let the guys get experience with the games they play and let them get a feel of different situations. If they weren’t talented, they wouldn’t be in the team. Twenty20 cricket is all about enjoying your cricket. This unit is a very exciting one. Yuvraj Singh, MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina coming back will strengthen our batting and our whole unit altogether.”
India hasnever lost to Pakistan in the World Cup – be it of the 50-over variety or the T20 kind – but Kohli said such records were the last thing on the team’s mind. “We never look at the record. We never look at that game as a big game. It is just hyped up by all the people around it,” he observed. “It doesn’t matter which opposition we are playing against, the preparation is the same, the mindset is the same, the intention is to go out there and score runs or field well or take wickets. It’s the same for us. It’s just that the record is such that we haven’t lost a game against Pakistan in the World Cup. We are not going to go out there to keep that record intact, we are going to go out there to play some good cricket and not to get too desperate thinking about these outside factors. So as long as we continue to focus on our strength and play good cricket on the day, we are good enough to beat any side in the world.”
So much for the team. As for Kohli himself, he has clearly established himself as the leader of the batting pack across formats, towering head and shoulders above the rest of his colleagues. He has also had exceptional success in Bangladesh, all of which have contributed to the feel-good factor permeating through the Kohli psyche.
“In a T20 game, you have to play as a unit because even a guy who plays three-four balls at the end can make a huge contribution for you. If you hit three sixes in the last four balls, you might be the most important player in that particular innings,” Kohli said, seemingly trying to deflect attention and pressure of expectations from him. “I am not looking at it as people separately having to do something special, T20 is a combined effort. Obviously, I would like to do well and score runs for my team. Every other batsman in the team would want to do the same. I have had a good time in the Asia Cup recently, I like playing in Bangladesh, I will try and use those factors to my advantage and try and perform to the best of my abilities.”
Kohli led India in a major tournament for the first time at the Asia Cup, where India defeated Bangladesh and Afghanistan but went down to Pakistan and Sri Lanka. “The experience was wonderful. All the guys were eager to go out there and create something special for the team, give in good performances,” he gushed. “And that’s something you enjoy as a captain. If everyone is hungry and eager to go out there and perform and give 100% effort all the time, that’s all you can ask for as a captain. We won two convincing games and the other two games, we lost in the last over. The kind of fight we showed in both those games, even though we didn’t have the best of totals on the board, that was commendable.
“It’s not about what you do immediately in a tournament, it’s not about the results but it’s about what you take out of those tournaments, what you see coming in the future for the team. What I saw and what all the others saw in the team was that something very exciting awaits us. Everyone is very excited to find out what their potential is to perform at the international level. I was pretty pleased, I had a great time captaining all the guys and everyone was very supportive. That’s all you need as a captain, 11 committed players in the team.”