The Wanderers, intimidating when full with its Bullring feel, can be an intimate place when empty. The team bus brings players right up to the back entrance of their dressing rooms. The front balcony looks out onto a grass bank, and then the field of play. From behind the balcony they can walk to the nets. The press conference room is just around the corner.
This is where, in December 2013, in India’s first Test without Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli sat, having scored a century on day one of the series, aware of the presence of South Africa bowling coach Allan Donald in the room as he waited for Kohli’s press conference to finish. Kohli drove the knife in, mocking a caption the host broadcaster had used for an analysis package, calling the South Africa bowlers non-threatening.
This time, though, Kohli the captain comes in fighting to avoid a whitewash. After a particularly scrappy press conference in the aftermath of the defeat in Centurion, Kohli was subdued in his answers. Make no mistake, he will be just as feisty on the field, and will look at the last Wanderers Test for inspiration.
“Definitely the things that worked for us last time we’ll focus on that,” Kohli said. “Although there is more grass on the wicket this time. The pace and bounce will probably be similar to what it was in 2013 also. Their bowling attack is slightly different but [Morne] Morkel and [Vernon] Philander are playing, which was the case last time also. Look we have to take the positives from that Test, what worked for us, what other things we have to repeat again to be able to perform in this game or this venue.
“Yeah, we’d love to have another situation where we can capitalise and this time around actually consolidate on it and bring the Test towards us rather than let it slip away again. As a team, we are looking to correct all the mistakes that have happened. Wanderers has been a special venue for us, hopefully we can play the same kind of cricket.”
India won the World T20 final here in 2007, and are yet to lose a Test in Johannesburg. They had a day and a half to win the last Test in, but couldn’t finish the job. “It was a very exciting Test for everyone to be involved in,” Kohli said. “For both the teams as well as the crowd, the last day being a really see-saw day. We came back sometimes, then we thought we were going to lose, and then it ended up being a draw. Yeah it was a very memorable Test match for me personally and for us as a team. Because we gave South Africa a total and forced them to play their best cricket to go for it.
“I always love playing at this stadium, it’s a great vibe, I feel really good when I walk into this ground. The last time’s Test match was very special and hopefully we can have as exciting a cricket as we had last time this time too.”
How nice the vibe would have felt had Kohli come here with the series alive. His coach Ravi Shastri said better preparation would have helped the side, but Kohli insisted preparation was not an issue. Asked if he was going to follow up on what Shastri said and make sure the mistake is not repeated on future tours, Kohli said: “I personally don’t feel that we didn’t feel prepared starting this series. I won’t sit here and point that out after losing a Test series. We had a week to prepare ourselves, five days because one day we were travelling. So we had that, and we went ahead with that.
“We are not going to sit and think of outside factors that made us lose. It was our errors, our mistakes of not capitalising on situations that led us to the result being 2-0 so far. I am not pinpointing anything else, I think those talks are left for later planning for future.”
One of the errors, Kohli said, was the batting, and that every batsman has been working on it. “Everyone has been spoken to individually,” Kohli said. “The discussions have happened as to what went wrong, what happened, why it happened and the guys have taken it well. And as I said, any time you step on to the field, you have an opportunity to correct your mistakes, and that’s how you progress at the international level. I am sure everyone is looking forward to rectifying those mistakes, and then if they are in the same positions, consolidating those positions.”
Kohli also said the fielding needed to improve. “They have fielded better than us and it’s visible and not a question of having numbers attached to it,” Kohli said. “That is something we definitely need to step up because fielding I feel is a bit of a controllable on the field. It depends on an individual’s attitude. Batting, I would still say, there’s always a bowler involved who has his skills as well and same for a bowler up against a batsman.
“From the batting point of view, I’ve mentioned it’s a personal responsibility and from the fielding point of view, it’s just a mindset of wanting to make a difference for the team every ball that you are standing on the park. Definitely these two things we have to take into consideration going into this Test match.”