Leading India for the first time in a World Cup, Virat Kohli pressed home the importance of intensity and focus in a campaign such as this at his pre-departure press conference in Mumbai, and confirmed an unchanged 15-man squad from the preliminary troupe that had been picked earlier. That means Kedar Jadhav, whose shoulder injury during the Indian Premier League was a matter of concern, has been passed fit to play, reports Cricbuzz.
Kohli has played in two 50-over World Cups before this, his first being during India’s victorious campaign in 2011, and stressed on how this World Cup is going to be different to the others he’s played in. Putting the spotlight on the revised format this year, which will see all the ten teams go against each other in a round-robin format, Kohli termed the upcoming edition as the “most challenging” out of the ones he’s seen.“Personally, I think this is probably the most challenging World Cup of all the three that I’ve been a part of, because of the format,” he said on Tuesday (May 21). “Everyone has to be at their best intensity from the first match onward and we don’t have any room for complacency. That’s why it’s the World Cup, that’s why it’s the most important tournament in the world. We expect that kind of pressure from the first second. We’re not even going to let ourselves think that maybe the first week onward we’ll get into it.”
Kohli reckoned that in a high-stakes tournament like the World Cup, handling pressure is more important than adapting to the conditions, which admittedly in England aren’t quite the challenge that the Test cricket in the geography provides. Also, the pitches are expected to be flat and full of runs. Kohli said he expects high-scoring games but he also sees “scores of 260-270 being defended” as well.
“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. Pressure is the most important thing in the World Cup, and not necessarily the conditions,” Kohli said. “Secondly, all the bowlers in the squad, even during the IPL they were bowling themselves to be in the zone for 50-over cricket. And we saw the guys bowling. No one looked tired or fatigued after bowling four overs. They were fresh. 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,” he added.
India coach Ravi Shastri placed a bit more focus on conditions. “Our mantra will be to be flexible according to conditions. Anywhere else in the world, overcast conditions don’t matter much, but in England it does. So you’ve got to be ready for that. As you go north of London, it will be overcast, so you have to be ready to deal with that. I think we are prepared for that,” Shastri said.
Maintaining a focus in a high-intensity 46-day tournament must be difficult but Kohli pointed to the football clubs who do the same over a ten-month league in a season.
“This is the challenge,” Kohli said on maintaining intensity. “If you look at all the top-class clubs in the world, like in football, they maintain their intensity for three-four months in the Premier League, or in the La Liga. So if we get on a roll and if we maintain consistency then we should be able to do it for the length of the tournament.
“The good thing is that every game has a decent gap between each other. From that point of view, I don’t think that the players will burn out even if we have intense games. We will always have time to regroup and go for the next. So the best thing is that we’ll have four tough games straight up and that will set the tone nicely for us.”
On Kuldeep Yadav’s IPL form
The form of Kuldeep Yadav, India’s left-arm wristspinner, was a worry during the Indian Premier League, where he picked only four wickets across the nine games he played, but Kohli reiterated his faith in the young spinner who will be crucial to India striking in the middle overs on the flatter pitches in England.
“Someone like Kuldeep, it is important to see a period where things don’t go your way also. We are glad it happened during the IPL rather than happening during the World Cup. So Kuldeep has time to reflect, correct things and come into the World Cup even stronger. We know the kind of skill set he possesses along with (Yuzvendra) Chahal. They are really two pillars of our bowling line-up,” Kohli said.
The upswing in MS Dhoni’s fortunes
If Kuldeep’s form dipped during the IPL, MS Dhoni’s went the other way. The wicketkeeper-batsman was in red-hot form during the IPL, scoring 416 runs across 15 games, including three half-centuries.
“Mahendra Singh Dhoni is someone who’ll be right there. His communication with Virat has been fantastic,” Shastri said. “There is no one better than him when it comes to keeping and also dealing with those tight situations in matches. It was great to see the way he was moving in this IPL. He will be a big player in this World Cup.”
India play two warm-up games against New Zealand (on May 25) and Bangladesh (May 28) before opening their World Cup campaign against South Africa in Southampton on June 5.