An entry from the diary of Virat Kohli
It's finally here - the day when we face the Australians. I really want to tell them how strong we are and make a statement about ourselves. These newspapers don't settle on anything- despite whitewashing Sri Lanka across formats, they labelled it an easy victory against a weak side. No, their thoughts don't matter to me- they do it for grabbing eyeballs. But yeah, it affects me a little and surely affects the teammates in this social media influenced world. We can't shut it out completely- I did try that once though but it's hard, it's like being isolated. But anyway, a heavy series victory against these Australians, and we would really be confident about our own game with the World Cup in sight.
I am really happy about many things!
Rohit finally improved his record in Sri Lanka in the last series with two hundreds and I am really hoping he gets going in this series- it gives me, and the rest of the guys, a big cushion in the middle order. But right now, Dhawan and Rohit, these two are my best openers by far and I hope others keep pushing them to make the opening slots' competition tough.
Rahane is someone who has grabbed his chances as the third opener of late, and I really like the way he can be useful in conditions where batting is difficult. Dhoni bhai always used to tell me how Rahane is most effective when he opens because he likes to score in boundaries and it gets tough for him to keep a check on the dot balls in the middle overs.
For a long while, we had Rahul as the third opener in mind but I feel he'll be a great addition to the weak middle order, or as many might put it - the new middle order. He can rotate strike, play big shots and run well, I think he's a guy we should groom for the long term number four spot - err, although Pandey is first-choice number four right now.
I like how both Jadhav and Pandey stepped up in Sri Lanka with crucial fifties- I think we need these two to do well. Jadhav is a complete package with his off-spin, that somehow breaks partnerships for us- almost always! He can fill in with 5-6 overs, much like Travis Head of Australia, and can accelerate, as he demonstrated in the ODI series against England If only, he could hold on to catches- I hate that about him, his fielding standards. Pandey, on the other hand, is a gem. He is cool as a cucumber.
I was very impressed with the way he played that mature innings in Australia- his first hundred- and then his stand with me in Sri Lanka where he finished the chase. He and Rahul will have, kind of, another duel against Australia for the number four slot, and with Dhawan out, we are a batsman short, so both might get a game in this series. Let's see. I won't premeditate that.
Dhoni bhai has really been his usual self. Calm, saintly fifities with the fireworks at the end. His stand with Bhuvi in the second game against Sri Lanka was awe-inspiring. I never once doubted his position in 2019 WC but frankly, it is important to groom a backup wicketkeeper, not that he feels the competition for his spot but for the long term. We have a huge gap there. And I've had long conversations with MSK over this. Maybe Rishabh can be roped in the T20 games and we'll see how he does there.
The pace quartet of Bhuvi, Bumrah, Shami and Umesh is probably the best attack we've had in years! It's really hard to choose among them although Bumrah has been the front-runners in limited overs. I am thankful that we finally have a tank in pace bowling we can be proud of, and I don't mind this problem of plenty. It serves us well.
The spin department amazed me the most in Sri Lanka - we went with three young spinners and thought of skipping (read: resting) Ashwin and Jaddu, but all of them - Kuldeep, Yuzi and Axar - have elated me. Especially Kuldeep. I have reiterated the fact that we need a wrist spinner for limited overs format and I feel Kuldeep is someone who can control his length and line and knows how to use his variety- something wrist spinners lack. Yuzi is a street-smart bowler too, while Axar is a like-to-like replacement for Jaddu. Although he needs to pick up his batting skills.
Oh yes, and how can I forget how happy I am about Pandya. He has been the one guy we've been looking around for years. He's someone who can bat explosively, bowl his quota of 10 overs and field well. If he works on his bowling and thinks about his role which I told him to, he can be an asset to this team in long-term.
My focus on fitness for myself and the team is paying off very well. This is a bunch of fit boys, and I love to lead by example. Personally, the 30th hundred was a happy feeling. Never thought when I started playing that I'll reach here but now it seems like job half done.
But as I close this entry in the diary, I feel very excited about the pool of resources we've built over the last year and half, and I hope this competitive, performance-hungry culture prevails. These are the standards I have set for myself- and I expect them from my team too.