Virat Kohli will never play for another franchise in the Indian Premier League other than the Royal Bangalore Challengers. This is a claim made not by assumption, but by his own admission. Having been associated with the Bangalore-based franchise since its inception in 2008, Kohli has developed a bond with not just the club’s management, but also the city and the fans, and sums it up in a few words, “All over again for RCB, one more time, and forever.”
Kohli has, after all, led RCB since the 2013 season. While his side has come close, it has never managed to bag the silverware yet, for various reasons. Kohli, though, puts it down to bad decision making.
“The failure lies where decisions aren’t made properly,” he said in Bangalore on Saturday (March 16). “If I sit here and say our luck was bad, that won’t be right. You make your own luck, and if you make poor decisions and the other team makes good ones, you will lose. When we played big matches too, our decision-making wasn’t right.”
While that may have been a problem of the past, looking ahead, Kohli stressed on the importance of creating a culture this year. A culture that will not just be a part of the set-up this year, but one that they are striving to make the essence of the franchise, that would live on, even bereft of Kohli.
“What we’ve spoken about this year is to lay down a culture, which is the most important thing for any team. One thing that remains an essence for any team is striving for excellence and being committed to what you want to achieve. That takes commitment on a daily basis, and that is something I’m looking forward to this season. We will require absolute professionalism from all our players. We’ll give responsibility to the players to handle themselves on the field, off the field, and take good decisions, be responsible about their life and the sport as well.
“We all are here taking care of that culture for now. We’re not going to be here after a few years, none of us can be here forever. But RCB will remain for a long, long time and the next lot of players that come in should feel that culture, embrace it and be proud of being part of this franchise. To me it has been a most special experience. I don’t see myself leaving or playing for any other franchise. That’s purely because of that connect. We’re going to play this season for that connect.”
While RCB seek to create a stronger culture, they also have on their hands, addressing problems from the past of – team balance, the apparent lack of depth in the middle order, or even the heavy dependency on Kohli and AB de Villiers for their runs. In alignment, they roped in the likes of Shimron Hetmyer, Marcus Stoinis and Heinrich Klaasen to beef up their batting this season. While RCB have been successful in bridging the gaps on paper in the past, they have fallen short on the field, an element Kohli acknowledged.
“When you choose players you obviously want to choose the strongest players that are in front of you and what your team requires the most. I think from that point of view we’ve been spot on doing that. But you can never predict how a season is going to go. In a couple of finals that we reached, we felt that maybe we don’t have the right balance, but suddenly your players get into a zone where they’re unstoppable and then you just back that team throughout the season,” said Kohli.
RCB have recruited the arsenal they believed they needed, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a proven success, as Gary Kirsten, the RCB coach, acknowledged.
“I don’t think it takes rocket science to work out where our weak points were. We’ve certainly tried to address that in our recruitment for this year. But as much as sport is about getting the right players on board…we have no clue if someone we’ve recruited is going to fire in this IPL or not. What we do know is we try to build a balance as best we can, based on learnings from past tournaments. And you’ve got to have a hard edge around your performances, you’ve got to build some momentum in the competition.
“And if we’re able to do that, then some players that people think are not good enough, they might fire. There are a lot of teams that wouldn’t have expected someone that did really well for them to do so. And we’re no different. A lot of doing well in this tournament is around how you build that momentum and how you understand to win games in really close situations,” Kirsten said.
For Kohli, however, it’s about creating that culture he was referring to earlier, as the foundation for his side this season.
“The thing that stands out for me this season is that against all the beliefs and views that go around, the thing that we have been able to do in the last ten years is just create a fan base which is impossible to create if you are striving for things that are not real. That has happened purely because of the spirit with which we played our cricket.
“Even after so many years, having reached three finals and three semifinals and not having that trophy in our hand, we never felt like there was a lack of enthusiasm before starting a season. It can only happen when you have such a strong fan base and a stadium that you look forward to coming to and playing in.
“We spoke about creating a culture, and expecting people to follow it is going to be key. Every team is strong in the IPL, you have world-class players playing all over. It’s the team that wants it the most, and wants it more badly that goes through. That is something we’ll look forward to bringing out in the players this season and everyone is really driven about that. I can guarantee you there will be no lack of commitment or pride of playing for RCB this season.”
But what is this culture that Kohli keeps referring to?
Kirsten elaborated: “Every team is trying to build something that allows a team to feed off what you are playing for. At the end of the day we need to have a shared purpose in terms of what we want to achieve as a team. Each of these players are commodities you know in IPL, so you need to get them to feel like they are playing for a shared purpose. Every team is trying to do that.
“Some have done it better than others. But I think every team is striving for that. We are going to make it the focus of our attention this year, to make sure that we understand what that shared purpose is. I think every team is trying to do that and it’s important to have that,” he said.
While the captain and coach strive towards one common goal of creating a culture, it will also be a test of how the two complement each other’s style of leadership, which is visibly different from each other’s. Kirsten is one who “likes to canvas opinions and ideas, and enjoys collaborative thinking”.
“I understand Virat and I’ve worked a lot with him. We’ve all got very different styles. I think when you complement each other’s styles, you can explore the leadership and that can be a really good thing. I’m excited about that. I know that I’m very different from Virat and I’m very different from Ashish as well. The more different you are, I think it helps. At the end of the day, you also want a shared vision and a shared purpose. And we all agree on certain things. For me, it’s important everyone gets a shared voice.”