ITDC INDIA EPRESS/ ITDC INDIA There cannot be more contrasting teams facing off. South Africa—beaten, depleted, in an almost must-win situation. India—fresh, eager to get its World Cup campaign going, all guns blazing. South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis has to ensure his team’s confidence and morale don’t plummet any further. He has only 14 fit players at his disposal with a few of them not performing to their potential. On the other hand is India captain Virat Kohli—well rested, hungry, leading a team full of confidence. He has a problem of plenty when it comes to choosing his playing XI.
This is Kohli’s third World Cup, but his first as captain. Also, his first as the leading run scorer in ODIs. It has taken two years of planning, creating and preparing a team that is expected to deliver in the English conditions. Kohli and Team India are raring to go.
Kohli described it as a matter of great pride to lead India at the World Cup. “Playing the 2015 World Cup, I never imagined this day, because a World Cup is too far off, to think or predict anything. So, I think I'm just feeling grateful that I'm in this position to have the opportunity to lead my country in a tournament like the World Cup. It's always going to be a time to remember and a very special feeling so I'm really looking forward to the challenge. It is a different kind of responsibility. You need to be able to absorb a lot more. So, I think from that point of view it's really exciting to have this kind of a challenge at this stage in my career.”
Kohli the batsman has, interestingly, always kicked off his World Cup campaigns in the past in style. He scored 100* against Bangladesh in the 2011 edition and in the 2015 edition he began with a 107 against Pakistan.
Asked how he feels going into his first World Cup match each time, Kohli, with 41 ODI centuries to his name till date, said it felt the same like he would going into a Test match—lots of energy, nerves, butterflies in the stomach initially. “Honestly, for me, I have this feeling before every game that I play honestly and I can't differentiate. Yes, if you just say the word 'World Cup', it brings a different kind of feeling to your mind and heart. 2011, 2015, similar kind of butterflies in the stomach. Even when you walk into play in a Test match and you walk in at 10/2, you have the same butterflies in the stomach. So, that is a very consistent factor and when that starts going down, you know what comes next.”
He said he has come to accept people’s expectations of him turning up each time and score big and is used to these pressures. “When I walk out to bat, come down the stairs, people will say we need a hundred and all those kind of things will happen. So, for me, that's just part of the process now. It's not something that I don't want to hear, or something that I think people should not tell me because when you do well, people obviously want to see you do well again and again because they want to see the team win. If I'm in a position to be able to do that again, but more importantly make the team win, that will be my goal. And if it takes a hundred runs, 150, 50, 60, 70, 40, whatever it is, I'm ready to do that and that's the frame of mind I'm going to be in,” he said.
Not one to react to off-field sledging any more but answer back with his bat, Kohli refused to react to SA pacer Kagiso Rabada’s comments where he described the Indian skipper as ‘immature’. Instead, he said, Rabada had the skills batsmen need to respect. “He has the kind of passion and he has a kind of skill-set that he can, on his day, go through any batting order. We've played well against him in past and that is only because we have been respectful of his skills. But at the same time, we have been assured and sure of what we want to do as batsmen (against him).