Upton is confident captain Kohli will lift his maiden senior ICC trophy in the UAE. Kohli and Upton worked closely during India’s victorious 2011 World Cup campaign.
The 2021 T20 World Cup, being played in the UAE and Oman, began on October 17 and the Men in Blue will kick off their campaign against arch-rivals Pakistan at the Dubai International Stadium on October 24. The Super 12s round begins from October 23.
“India are arguably the best T20 cricket team in the world. The Indian team is excellently poised to be able to do well because they’ve such a good team. So, India will go into that T20 World Cup as a significant favourite. I have no doubt about that. Probably one of the biggest challenges is that it is very difficult to go into a big event being the favorite because you have all the pressure and the expectation on you,” Upton told TimesofIndia.com in an exclusive interview.
Image credit: ICC T20 World Cup‘s Twitter handle
“Every team that plays against you, comes in with an underdog mindset, and going into a big high-pressure event with an underdog mindset actually sets up the kind of mindset that very often translates to winning. Because you are not expected to win, you can play with freedom, you try and just keep transferring the pressure onto the opposition team who walk onto the field already with a lot of pressure,” Upton further said.
“So, probably the biggest disadvantage, like in the 2011 ICC World Cup, is going to be the pressure and expectation on the Indian team,” Upton said.
India had won the inaugural World T20 edition, held in South Africa, under Dhoni’s leadership, beating Pakistan in the summit clash. After the 2007 title triumph, India’s best performance came in the 2014 edition when they reached the final, but lost to Sri Lanka by six wickets in Dhaka.
DHONI, KOHLI AND THE ART OF CAPTAINCY
Kohli, who will be handing over the captaincy baton to someone else after the coveted tournament, would aim to finish the mega event on a high. Kohli will also be getting assistance from two-time World Cup-winning captain MS Dhoni who has been appointed as the team’s mentor for the ICC World T20 and has already joined the Indian camp.
Upton, who played a big role, along with the then head coach Gary Kirsten, in India’s 2011 World Cup triumph, went on to describe the captaincy styles of Dhoni and Kohli and how according to him the duo are on two sides of the emotional spectrum.
Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni (AP Photo)
“They are very different as captains in terms of the outward presence or their persona. Dhoni is super calm, Virat is obviously very emotionally charged. They are almost two ends of the spectrum. I think together they work quite nicely on the field. When Virat became captain, Dhoni was able to bring a certain calmness to the team around Virat, and was able to help Virat also just with some thinking around bowling changes and fielding changes,” Upton said.
“So, captaincy is always a really difficult role. It’s not the old idea of captaincy. It’s not just about bowling changes and setting fields. That really is only a tiny part of captaincy. A big part is actually inspiring people, leading people, getting the best out in people,” Upton further told TimesofIndia.com.
“Dhoni was very good. He could have been even better. Kohli is very good. He could be even better, but there is no leader who is the finished product. So as long as Virat continues with an open mindset around learning and asking himself the question – how can I be an even better captain, and as long as he’s on that journey, he will continue to get better and better,” Upton further said.
UPTON: WE ARE OFTEN TOO QUICK TO MAKE THE BEST PLAYER THE CAPTAIN
Kohli has already announced that he will give up his T20I captaincy after the World T20 and there are reports that the Indian run-machine might also think of quitting ODI captaincy too some time in the near future. Rohit Sharma of course is everybody’s frontrunner to replace Virat in the T20 format and if needed in ODIs too. Rohit has already guided the Mumbai Indians franchise to five IPL titles.
When Ajinkya Rahane guided India to a Test series triumph in Australia, some felt Rahane should be given the reins of the Test team .
“That’s a difficult question. The answer is very, very subjective. The most educated answer I can give you is that we are too quick in sports to choose the best player as a leader. It’s just like in business – we have for years made the mistake of taking their best salesman and making them the sales manager. And what you do is you often lose your best salesman and you get a very average sales manager,” Upton said.
File pic – Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane (AFP Photo)
“We are not very good at understanding what are the criteria upon which you choose a captain. Number one, so we don’t choose them very often for the right reason, we just choose them because they’re the best player or the player that most people like. And number two, because we don’t really know how to choose them, we don’t know how to improve their captaincy skills. So, we have batting coaches to help batsmen get better and bowling coaches to get bowlers to get better, and fielding coaches to help fielders get better. But very seldom do we have a leadership coach to help leaders get better at leading and it’s a very big gap that still exists within not just international cricket, but generally in a lot of team sports is we still in the year 2021, don’t do a good job choosing our captains and we don’t do a good job at helping our captains to get a lot better, a lot quicker. That would be my answer,” he said.
“Rahane has got his areas where he’s very good. Rohit is very good in his areas. Virat is very good. But their captaincy development has to be left alone to be random and experiential and just for them to find their own feet. So, that’s what I would say, I would love sports to get a little bit more intelligent with how we pick our leaders and then how we actually train our leaders to become good leaders,” Upton further said.
RAVI SHASTRI’S TENURE COMING TO AN END
India head coach Ravi Shastri’s tenure will come to an end after the conclusion of the ICC World T20. Under Shastri’s tenure, India touched great heights, including two back-to-back Test series wins on Australian soil.
“Obviously, he’s done a very nice job. The thing is, again, like with captains, we look at a coach. And if the team that the coach is coaching wins, we think the coach is a good coach, and the team the coach is coaching loses, we think they’re a bad coach. Again, we’re not very educated when it comes to assessing coaches, because if you’ve got a very very good team, the team will tend to win. Regardless of the coach, if you’ve got a bad team that’s really young or really building, they’re not necessarily going to be winning. But a coach that helps create a harmonious team, that ensures that there are really good structures, that they’ve got really good support staff around them, that the players feel like they’re really supported, they can be themselves, they can express themselves, that’s a very valuable asset for a coach to have. And genuinely, the Indian team seems to be a pretty happy team at the moment. They’ve done nicely under Ravi. He obviously knows the game very well. He’s very well respected. And what’s also important, is the coach-captain relationship,” the former strength and conditioning coach of the Indian team further said.
Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli (AP Photo)
“I think a coach and captain are critical roles – to get the right people, to get the right support, to create the right environment. And that’s very, very important. So, it’s something that is a never-ending journey. You don’t end up with the perfect coach or the perfect captain or the perfect coach-captain relationship. It’s something that constantly needs to be worked on and fine-tuned. And most of the teams that do really well have those leadership ingredients pretty much sorted,” Upton signed off.