Kohli wants Royal Challengers to 'enjoy the occasion'
On the eve of the IPL 2016 final against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Virat Kohli has said that "being in pressure should be a privilege for a sportsman" and has asked his side, Royal Challengers Bangalore, to enjoy the occasion of their third final in eight years but not be overawed by it.
There is a history of Royal Challengers coming unstuck when everything is on the line. Kohli knows this. He was captain in 2012, when all they had to do was beat Deccan Chargers in their final league match to make the playoffs. Despite keeping the opposition to 132, they crashed out with a nine-run loss. They wilted in another high-pressure situation, in 2014, when Kohli and his team had to defend 16 off the final over and then two off one ball as RP Singh had Ravindra Jadeja caught, off a no-ball and let Chennai Super Kings off the hook.
But in 2016, Royal Challengers have handled pressure excellently. They were in sixth place, needing to win four out of four matches to qualify for the playoffs and they did just that as Kohli racked up scores of 109, 75*, 113 and 54* to take his team to second on the points table. In the first qualifier, reduced to 29 for 5 in a chase of 159, AB de Villiers pulled off one of the better rescue acts in T20 cricket with an unbeaten 79 off 47 balls and helped his side clinch a four-wicket win. Royal Challengers, this season, have not been fazed by pressure of a big occasion because Kohli and the head coach Daniel Vettori have tried to keep things simple.
"It's just about them not being over-excited, understanding what's given them success and sticking to their strengths because eventually you are playing a game of cricket," Kohli said. "There's nothing different happening out there. It's still bowling the same ball or playing the same sort of shot. It's just the occasion that sometimes gets to players so the biggest challenge tomorrow for all the players in the side is to not look at that game of cricket as something very different.
"The end result is something that can make someone too happy or too nervous but that's what you have to stay away from. You have to stay in the moment, stay in the process. Eventually, things take care of themselves. At the end of the game, whether we win or lose, we understand that this is the only game we have as a team this season and we would like to enjoy that together because the journey has been wonderful so far. The way we have been able to turn things around as a squad is something that we all are very proud of and we want to take this opportunity tomorrow to enjoy each other's company on the field."
So what is key to coming good in the glare of a big final? "I think the one word that comes to mind is composure. It's very similar to being in a pressure situation while you are batting or bowling. What you require is composure.
"On occasions like this, where it starts is the change room. How you look at the atmosphere out there on the ground, how excited or nervous you get, whether your heart rate is shooting up before you even start warm-ups, all those things are very, very important for a person to understand."
Kohli invoked a sense of the bigger picture as well to defuse the pressure and help himself and his team perform to the peak of their ability.
"[We need to] understand that tomorrow is not going to be paused forever. Whatever happens, there has to be another day, there has to be a new day after that. Whether you win or whether you lose, that will not stay. Just to stay away from that. Be attached yet be detached, it's a classic example of that saying where you want to win, but at the same time you are not so attached to it that you are cursing yourself or being too hard on yourself. At the same time, if you win, you must enjoy with your team-mates, you must enjoy the occasion but understand that that's not the end of everything. The juggernaut doesn't stop rolling there, you still have to keep working hard in any of the games you play afterwards. I think that sort of mindset where you can be probably very measured in terms of approaching a loss or a victory helps you stay in the right focus."
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo