India captain Virat Kohli on Wednesday rated the World Test Championship as the biggest among all the ICC events in the wake of revelations that the game's governing body is planning to have more flagship white ball tournaments during the next eight-year cycle from 2023-2031.
According to ICC's proposed 2023-2031 Future Tours Programme (FTP) cycle, a proposed T20 Champions Cup is earmarked for 2024 and 2028 and an ODI Champions Cup in 2025 and 2029, alongside the T20 World Cups in 2026 and 2030, and the ODI World Cups in 2027 and 2031.
"I think World Test Championship as an ICC tournament should be right up there. All the other tournaments for me they start under that. This is probably the biggest of them all as every team wants to make it to the final at the Lord's. We are no different.
"We are in that zone. We want to make sure that we qualify as soon as we can and be in that frame of mind to hopefully win that (championship)," said the Indian skipper ahead of first Test against New Zealand from Friday.
Kohli has no doubts that World Test Championship has added a context to the traditional format making the contests more exciting with points on offer.
"It has made Test cricket more exciting and that's something we have experienced as a side although we haven't had too many games away from home. Couple of games in the West Indies and we haven't had a tour of Australia as a part of Test Championship. This is our first away tour since the start of home season," said Kohli.
The skipper expects that the two-Test series will be as intense as the recent series between England and South Africa.
"Games will be intense and teams will go for wins rather than settling for draws which is what we need to see in Test cricket. The South Africa versus England series was very exciting. England won the Cape Town Test in the final hour and you will see lot more results like that because there are lot more points in line," he added.
"Ishant is hitting good areas, Prithvi should follow instincts"
India captain Virat Kohli on Wednesday dropped enough hints to indicate that seniormost pacer Ishant Sharma and young opener Prithvi Shaw will be in the playing XI for the first Test against New Zealand here.
If India's net session on Wednesday is taken into consideration, Wriddhiman Saha is starting as the wicketkeeper ahead of Rishabh Pant for the series opener beginning here on Friday.
Hanuma Vihari, team's designated No 6 batsman for away Tests, will be the fifth bowling option with Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant being three specialist pacers.
Ravichandran Ashwin is in the mix for the lone specialist spinner's spot though Ravindra Jadeja's all-round skills can't be ignored either.
Ishant, who was out for three weeks with ankle injury sustained during the Ranji Trophy game, bowled full tilt at the nets and even earned appreciation for troubling batsmen with his pace and bounce.
"He (Ishant) looked pretty normal and pretty similar to what he was bowling before the ankle injury. He is hitting good areas again and he has played (Test cricket) in New Zealand couple of times, so his experience will be useful to us. It was really good to see him bowling with pace and in good areas," Kohli said during his media interaction.
The skipper also said in as many words that the team wouldn't like to change Shaw's natural stroke-play which was a good enough hint that Shubman Gill will have to warm the benches for now.
"Prithvi is a talented player and he has his own game and we want him to follow his instincts and play the way he does. Look, these guys have no baggage and are not desperate to perform in any manner," the skipper said.
The skipper wants Shaw to take a leaf out of Mayank Agarwal's performance in Australia back in 2018-19 when he hit back to back half-centuries in Melbourne and Sydney.
"They don't have any nerves to do well overseas. Like a clear head with which Mayank played in Australia, Prithvi can do the same in New Zealand.
"A bunch of guys playing with fearlessness, something that can motivate the whole team, gives us start that the team wants and not get intimidated by the opposition in any way."
The skipper downplayed India's below-par show in the three-match ODI series, especially that of Agarwal.
"Prithvi, I think you can call him relatively inexperienced and Mayank, I wouldn't call him that inexperienced because he has scored a lot of runs last year. So he understands what his game is like in Test cricket.
"I think sometimes in white ball cricket we try to do too much but once you come into red ball cricket, you fall into that disciplined mode of batting, which obviously suits him much more at this stage."
While he didn't give an answer on the Saha-Pant debate, the burly Delhi keeper had precious little to do at the main nets and was seen spending more time doing his keeping drills and only got an opportunity to bat when the first team completed its routines.
New Zealand are likely to go with an all-pace attack but the Indian captain wants to stick to his team's strengths which is play with one spinner in the four-pronged bowling attack.
"If it had been a Johannesburg pitch, I could have said it's a possibility (to play four pacers) but our team has that skill that we can bowl out other teams with only three fast bowlers," he sounded confident.
"But you need one world class skillful spinner, who can take wickets on any pitch. We won't copy the home team. We would rather figure out what is the most lethal combination, which gives us balance," he added.
"As a bowling group it's better than the one that came to NZ last time and that is why we have got so many teams all out in last two and half years. We would like to repeat that here also," Kohli added.
"Workload takes toll but will play all formats for at least 3 more years"
India captain Virat Kohli is preparing himself for a "rigorous three years" of playing all three formats after which he might reassess his workload amid a "transition phase" setting in.
The world's premier batsman is looking at the "bigger picture" in Indian cricket with two T20 and one 50-over World Cup in the next three years after which he might decide on playing two of the three formats.
"My mindset is on the bigger picture as I prepare myself for a rigorous three years from now and after that we might have a different conversation," Kohli replied when asked if he is having second thoughts about quitting at least one format after the 2021 World T20 in India.
The skipper was speaking to the media ahead of the two-Test series against New Zealand starting on Friday.
He didn't mince any words while admitting that fatigue and workload management are issues that need to be discussed at all forums.
"It's not a conversation you can hide away from in any manner. It is around eight years now that I have been playing 300 days a year, which includes travelling and practice sessions. And intensity is right up there all the time. It does take a toll on you," the Indian captain was forthright in his reply.
Kohli, who will turn 31 this year, agreed that periodic breaks have worked well for him.
"It's not that the players are not thinking about it all the time. We do choose to take lot more breaks individually even though the schedule might not allow you to. Especially from guys, who play all the formats."
For Kohli, it is not just about his performance alone but also the leadership which needs him to have his brain ticking all the time to devise strategies.
"It's not easy being captain, having that intensity in the practice sessions. It does take a toll on you. Periodic breaks seem to work pretty okay for me.
"At a time where the body can't take anymore, maybe when I am 34 or 35, we will have a different conversation. For the next two to three years I have no issues at all," he said.
The skipper understands his presence and peak performance is crucial till the 2023 World Cup after which he understands that the next phase of transition will set in.
"I can keep going on with the same intensity and also understand that the team wants a lot of my contribution in the next two to three years, so that I can ease into another transition that we faced five-six years ago," he said referring to the retirements of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.