New Delhi, Feb 10 : Former India head coach Ravi Shastri said his aim was to win and make Test cricket paramount and, in this pursuit, he identified an uncut diamond in Virat Kohli, who would go on to captain the team in this format.
Kohli, who pulled out of ongoing Tests against England due to personal reasons, led the team in 68 Test matches and won 40 of them, making him India’s most successful captain. He gave up Test captaincy after India lost the series in South Africa 2-1 in 2021/22.
Under his captaincy, India got their first-ever Test series win in Australia in 2018/19, as well as making it to the final of the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship in 2021, where they lost to New Zealand at Southampton.
“There was a lot of individual brilliance but I wanted to see team brilliance. I wanted to win and to make Test cricket paramount and identified an uncut diamond in Virat Kohli. While (MS) Dhoni was my captain, my eye was on him (Kohli). I told him very early in my second month: ‘It’ll take time but watch, observe, be ready (for the captaincy)’,” said Shastri to Michael Atherton in a conversation for The Times.
Shastri, a member of India’s 1983 ODI World Cup winning team, had initially joined the Indian team in 2014 as a team director and became the head coach in 2017 till 2021 Men’s T20 World Cup. He was also appreciative of Kohli’s willingness to play Test cricket and do the tough things for needing to succeed in the format.
“Kohli was fully engaged with Test cricket. He was passionate. He was prepared to do the hard yards and was prepared to play tough cricket, which fitted my way of thinking. When you play Australia or Pakistan you’ve got to have a ‘no complaints’, ‘no excuses’ attitude.”
“We were on the same page and wanted a battery of fast bowlers. He was ready for a scrap. He wanted to play hard. We made it a free-for-all in the nets. You were allowed to bounce the shit out of anyone. He was the first guy to embrace it; he was quite prepared to look ugly in the nets and the mindset changed.”
That battery of fast-bowlers helped India unearth a gem in Jasprit Bumrah, who recently became the first fast-bowler from the country to sit at top of ICC Test Rankings. Bumrah had taken a match haul of nine wickets in India’s 106-run win over England in the second Test at Visakhapatnam and also became the fastest Indian bowler to reach 150 wickets in the format.
Shastri recalled how eager Bumrah was about succeeding in Test cricket. “I remember my first call to him, it was in Kolkata. I asked him would he be interested in Test cricket. He said that would be the biggest day of his life.”
“He was labelled as a white-ball cricketer without asking him. But I knew. I wanted to see how hungry he was. I told him to get ready, be prepared. I told him I was going to unleash him in South Africa.”
“He’s so excited to be playing and doing well in Test cricket. He was desperate to play Test cricket with Virat Kohli. They know, at the end of the day, no one remembers white ball averages. They will always remember your numbers in Test cricket,” he concluded.