Handling pressure, not conditions, the challenge at the World Cup – Virat Kohli

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Virat Kohli (Indian Express photo)

India captain Virat Kohli believes handling the pressure “is the most important thing in the World Cup and not necessarily the conditions”. He said as much a day before the team’s departure for England, for the tournament beginning on May 30. Second on the ICC ODI rankings behind hosts England, Kohli said his team was “very balanced” and “very strong”.

“White-ball cricket, playing in England, playing an ICC tournament, the conditions are not that different or that difficult I would say, compared to Test cricket,” Kohli said in Mumbai. “Pressure is the most important thing in the World Cup and not necessarily the conditions. From that point of view, it will be helpful. Secondly, all the bowlers that are in the squad, even during the IPL they were preparing themselves to be in the zone for 50-over cricket. And if you saw the guys bowling – no one looked tired or fatigued after bowling four overs. They were very fresh. The mindset or the ultimate goal is to be fit for the 50-over format and not let their fitness come down and that was communicated before the IPL started.

“We go into the World Cup feeling very balanced very strong as a side. You saw in the IPL as well, all the players that are in the squad were in great form and played really well.”

Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri spoke about the different challenges they will face because of the format of this World Cup in which all 10 teams play each other once and the top four qualify for the semi-finals. India’s first four matches will be against “tough” sides – South Africa, defending champions Australia, New Zealand and arch-rivals Pakistan.

“It is probably the most challenging World Cup of all the three that I have been part of because of the format and looking at the strength of the all the sides as well,” Kohli said. “If we live up to our skill sets and our standards that we set for ourselves, we’ll be on the right side of the result more often. That is going to be key. Every game you have to play to the best of your potential because it’s not a group stage anymore, it’s playing everyone once.

“The best thing is that we’ll have four tough games straight up and that will set the tone nicely for us. Everyone has to be at their best intensity from the first match onwards and we don’t have any room for complacency.”

The format is the same as that of the 1992 event in which Shastri played. When asked how challenging the format is, he said: “Very challenging. If you look at 2015 and 2019, the gap is much closer now between teams. See what Afghanistan were in 2015 and see what they are now. See what Bangladesh were and what they are now. The good thing though is there are those nine games rather than just three-four games where you have to be on the ball from the outset.

“The most important thing is to get out there and enjoy the World Cup and if you play to the potential the cup might be here.”

In terms of form and fitness, India had two players in focus ahead of the tournament – Kuldeep Yadav and Kedar Jadhav. Kuldeep was dropped by Kolkata Knight Riders for five of their 14 matches in the IPL recently because of his economy rate of 8.66 – his worst in any IPL season since his debut in 2016 – and his tally of four wickets in 33 overs. Jadhav, on the other hand, had injured his left shoulder in Chennai Super Kings’ last league game earlier this month to give India a worry before the World Cup. Even before the injury, Jadhav put together only 162 runs this IPL in 14 innings, averaging 18, and didn’t bowl at all, something he is expected to do for India during the World Cup. He was, however, declared fit on Monday and Shastri confirmed he will fly with the team.

“Someone like Kuldeep who has had so much success, it’s important to see a period where things don’t go your way also,” Kohli said. “We are glad that it happened during the IPL, rather than during the World Cup. He has time to reflect, time to correct things and come into the World Cup even stronger. The kind of skill set he possesses, along with [Yuzvendra] Chahal, they are really two pillars of our bowling line-up.

“Kedar also, we understand the kind of pitches they (Chennai Super Kings) got playing at home. We were not too worried looking at Kedar because he was looking in a good space. Yes, he couldn’t get runs, T20 is such a format where you don’t get a few and you can go on like that for a few days. We are not worried about anyone’s headspace.

“A team that does well at the World Cup is a team that can handle pressure well and secondly try and be as normal as possible. Looking at the magnitude of those games, the team that stays more focused and more balanced can go on to win the tournament.”

Both the captain and coach also reflected on the recent scores that were put up by England and Pakistan in the bilateral series that had both teams score at least 340 in three of the four completed matches. The conditions might be the same during the World Cup, but the scores might be a little different, Kohli said.

“We expect high-scoring games, but a bilateral series compared to a World Cup is very different,” he said. “You might see a lot of, I won’t say low-scoring games, but 260-270 kind of games, teams getting those totals and defending it successfully because of the pressure factor. We expect all kinds of scenarios at the World Cup but yeah, there will be quite a few high-scoring games too.”

India will be playing their matches across six venues in England, and Shastri said they will have to adapt according to the grounds.

“Our mantra will be to be flexible according to the conditions,” he said. “It’s one country in the world where the pitches might be flat but if it’s overcast and conditions change, then you’ve got to be up with it because any other country in the world, overhead conditions don’t matter that much. In England they do, and it differs from venue to venue. In London it might not make that much of a difference whereas if you go up north, it does get overcast and you’ll see things happening. So you have to be ready for that, prepare for that.”

India will play two warm-up matches, against New Zealand (May 25) and Bangladesh (May 28), before starting their main campaign on June 5 against South Africa. (ESPNCricinfo)

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