India in England 2014 July 7, 2014

'Excited' Kohli focused on his goals

Play 03:03
'Not targeting just one man' - Kohli

When India were losing all four Tests in England in 2011, Virat Kohli couldn't do anything about it, having not made the Test XI after a lacklustre tour of the West Indies. He used that setback as motivation, and came back a better batsman to become India's leading run-getter in Australia, where India failed miserably again. Kohli might come across as a brash youngster who would like to do things on his terms, but these traditional challenges matter more to him than he lets on.

When he made a bold statement on India's behalf with a century on the first day of the Test series in South Africa last year, Kohli spoke about how he had been thinking of, planning to, and visualising scoring hundreds in South Africa even when he was playing ODIs on flat tracks in India. He holds this England tour, he says, in the same regard.

"This is right up there with South Africa, Australia, New Zealand," Kohli said two days before the first Test at Trent Bridge. "And England, I would say, these are the four places where the subcontinent players do want to perform well and do target. I too have that in my mind. A pretty special place to play cricket."

Kohli spoke with appropriate respect for the challenge. "I'll be playing a Test at Lord's for the first time so all in all a very exciting tour for me personally because I have never played Test cricket here before. I am really looking forward to it. I have some goals I want to achieve, and I have been thinking about them. I am pretty excited about playing here, and it is right up there with the toughest venues for subcontinent players."

They might not have played here before, but Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara are being talked of as the meat in the Indian batting line-up, and the two wickets that every bowling unit is targeting. Kohli said he and Pujara are conscious of that, but don't want to let expectations weigh them down.

"I think it is more important what we expect of ourselves," Kohli said. "Obviously people will expect things when you start performing, but you can't focus on that. Because then, firstly you put pressure on yourself, and secondly you drift away from what you want to do. If you think of what you expect from yourself, you stick to your plan. We'd rather stick to that.

"Obviously we realise that we both have performed consistently in Test cricket. We want to keep on going like that. Cheteshwar has been brilliant for us at No. 3 and a really solid player. Gives us that feeling of calm. Him and me have got some good partnerships that have helped us get into stronger positions in Test matches. We both realise that, but we aren't thinking too much into those things. You can't plan for things unless you are batting in the middle and you are set. And then you can dictate terms. Once you get going you start to think about that big partnership that changes the course of the game."

The horror of 2011 will follow India until such a time they have righted it. Kohli said they didn't need to think too much about that defeat. "We haven't spoken about what we did wrong in that series," Kohli said. "We've spoken about the positives we could take out of it. A guy who played brilliantly in that series, Rahul Dravid, is mentoring us right now, speaking about his experiences. That's a big plus. We can't focus on the things that went wrong. You don't want to think about them. That was a different time.

"Three years down the line, we have a totally new side. It's a very exciting time for us because most of us haven't played Test cricket here. It'll be exciting for us to experience the conditions and everyone's eager to go out there and see what it's like. We've heard a lot from senior players of how it's one of the best places in the world to play Test cricket. You get full crowds, everyone's involved in the game and everyone knows the game, so it's an exciting time for us. We don't want to think about the negatives of 2011. Obviously, we'd like to do well in the series. It's not about washing that [2011] off, erasing those memories. That will stay in the history books, whether we like it or not. All we can focus on is the new series we have here, and put in a strong performance which would be a starting point for this young team to go ahead and be a good quality Test side."

Kohli can get cheeky and feisty when talking about opposition - as he did after the "softened-up" caption next to his photo in South Africa - but he stayed away from mind games here. He did acknowledge that Graeme Swann will be a big miss, but he didn't consider it a huge advantage that England have already lost a series this season to Sri Lanka. Asked whether India were planning to follow Ravi Shastri's advice, to "go for" the under-pressure England captain Alastair Cook, Kohli sought to play down any of those plans.

"There's no one man that we're looking to target," Kohli said. "If we play aggressively as a unit, you would want everyone in the opposition to be out. You want to get every wicket possible. It's not about targeting one man in particular as far as I'm concerned. Personally I'm not preparing for a particular player to be bogged down too much or anything like that. If we play aggressively, we'll create problems for all the batsmen and that's going to be our target.

"I'm the same for everyone (smiles). I don't change my aggression towards a particular player. Whatever works for the team, I try to do that. That's something I'm pretty consistent in."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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