Kohli on India’s packed schedule: ‘That’s cricket for you today’

Merely five days after an ODI ended late on January 19 in Bengaluru, India will be playing a T20 international all the way across in New Zealand as part of a five-match series to kick-off a full tour that features 10 games across formats. And it’s the same set of players: With the T20 World Cup coming up this year, India did not rest anyone from the squad that played the ODIs against Australia and picked a full-strength squad from those available.

India left for Zealand on January 20 to reach the next evening, giving them only three full days before the series opening in New Zealand on Friday. Virat Kohli is “sure” the travel time and the packed schedule “will be taken into consideration a lot more in the future”, while also accepting that that’s how international cricket is these days.

“Well, it’s definitely getting closer and closer to landing at the stadium straight, that’s how compressed the gap has become,” Kohli said in Auckland a day before the T20I series. “But yeah, I think this kind of travel and coming to a place which is seven-and-a-half hours ahead of India time is always difficult to adjust to immediately. So I am sure these things will be taken into a consideration a lot more in the future … it is what it is, and you’ve got to do the best you can to recover and to get used to the timings and just get on the park again. That’s international cricket for you today. It’s back to back.”

After the five T20Is, India will play three ODIs in New Zealand followed by two Tests to end the tour on March 4 in Christchurch. That’s not it, though, for the season. Just eight days later, India will host South Africa for the first of three ODIs, the second leg of a series that saw three Tests in October 2019. The last of those ODIS is on March 18 and the IPL is likely to start in the last week of March, leaving roughly 10 days’ gap for the players.

“Honestly, even if you think of revenge, these guys are so nice you can’t get into that”

Kohli is not looking for revenge after the World cup loss last year

India have been playing back-to-back series at home this season by hosting South Africa (two T20Is and three Tests), Bangladesh (three T20Is and two Tests), West Indies (three T20Is and three ODIs), Sri Lanka (three T20Is) and Australia (three ODIs). It’s not India’s busiest home season but, combined with injuries to a few key players, it has hardly left the players who feature in both limited-overs formats any time to rest or manage their workload. Kohli was pleased that the New Zealand tour was starting with the shortest format after playing ODIs at home recently.

“It (T20Is) sort of helps because it’s less time on the park,” he said. “So from that point of view, I think we’ve had longer games, the last three that we played against Australia, we played a few T20s before that. But having played a lot more than what you do in a T20 game in the last three games, I think we will find it a bit easier to come here and, even though with less time, just to be at the park and just be at our best as a team. We are looking forward to that, starting the T20s, because this is the year of the World Cup, so every T20 is important.”

Kohli acknowledged that New Zealand will be “very strong” in their backyard and India will hence have to be at their “best”. New Zealand, in turn, will also take confidence from the fact that they had beaten India 2-1 in the T20I series a year ago.

“In their conditions, they have always been very, very strong,” Kohli said. “You know what they bring to the table when playing in New Zealand, so we are not going to take that for granted. They know their conditions well and they understand the angles of the field and how the pitches play, so I think they will have a slight home advantage. But having said that, we have played here a lot.

“Not relating anything to the fact that Australia beat them and we beat Australia. It’s irrelevant, honestly. You have to play good cricket to win every series at the international level and (that’s) something we have done well as a side. For us, every series is a fresh start, and New Zealand in New Zealand is obviously a tougher challenge than playing them back home in India. We definitely have to be at your best.”

The last time these two teams met was in the 50-over World Cup, semi-final when New Zealand had reduced India to 24 for 4 while defending 239, and even though India fought back with half-centuries from MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja, India lost by 18 runs. Was Kohli looking for revenge now?

“Not really. Honestly, even if you think of revenge, these guys are so nice you can’t get into that,” he said. “We get along really well with all these guys. It’s all about just being competitive on the field and, as I said, that they are probably the one side that has set the right example for teams to play at the international level and how they should carry themselves. They obviously want to bring the best that they can every ball of the game, and they are intense in their body language. But they are not nasty, they are not doing things which are not acceptable on the field; they are very respectful of that fact and you can tell by the way they play.

“They are a quality side and we have a lot of respect for them. And vice versa as well, I think, they have a lot of respect for us. We actually were happy for them when they qualified for the finals, because when you’ve lost, you’ve got to look at the larger picture, and it meant a lot to them as a side. So yeah, I don’t think this is about any kind of revenge at all, it’s just about two quality sides playing good cricket, it’s a challenge for us to beat New Zealand here and something we are totally up for.”

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