Cricket World Cup: Late appearance an advantage for India – Virat Kohli
Virat Kohli: "We have a lot of positives that we can take out of starting after everyone else." © AFP

SOUTHAMPTON: India captain Virat Kohli began his pre-match press conference ahead of the team’s first game of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 with a smile.

If you’ve been to his press conferences, it is not an emotion he easily displays. Against the backdrop of what transpired a day before at Southampton’s Ageas Bowl, it was a disarming start to a long-awaited interaction with the press – one that is, from the perspective of many, the most important press conference of the tournament.

“Well, firstly, we are very happy that finally we are going to start playing. It’s been a while since we have been here,” said Kohli. The relief was palpable, for India have been in London since May 22 during which time they’ve played two warm-up matches, held four training sessions and played paintball.

Then, Kohli got back to seriousness as he assessed India’s opponents for game eight of the World Cup, South Africa. They have been beaten by England and Bangladesh and earlier on Tuesday were hit by news that Dale Steyn is out of the tournament.

“Look, injuries are a part of the game and these things can be predicted and I’m sure any team that gets hit with injuries is never a good thing, but still South Africa is a very talented, a very dangerous side on their day and even with the replacements, they will be a very strong side,” said Kohli.

“So we never take anyone lightly and whether a few key players get injured or not, if a youngster is stepping in and he has the right mindset, he can really perform on the day, so I think we need to maintain respect for that and really approach the game, focussing on our strength and what we can do as a side.”

(PREVIEW: Simmering India seek lift against depleted, jolted South Africa)

According to Kohli, for India to play their World Cup opener a week into the tournament – South Africa, England, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan have all played two matches – was not a problem.

“I think it is a bit of an advantage, I have to say, in terms of understanding how the games have gone, what the conditions have to offer, what the overcast conditions bring into play when the sun is out,” he said. “It’s a totally different ball game altogether what the conditions are at 10.30 in the morning compared to afternoon. And what is the pace of play, when you see other teams playing and what the approach is. So I think from that point of view, we have a lot to absorb. We have a lot to learn from, looking at the other teams play, the teams that have done well, what have they done well and in what phases?

“From that point of view, we would say that we have a lot of positives that we can take out of starting after everyone else. And look, whether a team has played before or not, it really wouldn’t matter on the day. It depends on how the side turns out, what kind of mental set-up they have and we have to be mentally and skilfully stronger than the opposition whoever we play to win on the day, so I think our focus will be that.”

(ALSO READ: After delayed start, India open campaign against South Africa)

On a distinctly Asian-looking Ageas Bowl surface, India look set to play two spinners. One of them looks to be Ravindra Jadeja, who adds an extra depth with his electric fielding and batting. Kohli spoke highly of Jadeja and Kuldeep Yadav, the wristspinner who had a poor IPL.

Kohli on Kuldeep Yadav: “He’s a guy who has done so well in the last two years.” © IANS

“Jadeja has been outstanding as well. Understanding his abilities fully, really grabbing all the opportunities that have come his way, especially in Test cricket also, the way he is batting with a lot of maturity is a great sign for the team,” said Kohli.

In regards to Kuldeep, Kohli emphatically stated that what happened in the IPL has no bearing on the World Cup. Kuldeep took 3/22 in the warm-up win over Bangladesh and Kohli backed the wristspinner to deceive batsmen in the World Cup.

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“Look, personally, I would tell you something. I have had great IPL seasons and I have entered playing for the country and I have felt like, I feel like I’m going to dominate this tournament so much and you can’t put ball to ball,” he said. “So every tournament, every game that you play has no connection to what you have done in the past. You can only take out the positives and the learnings and take it to the next tournament or game that you play. Whether you have done well in the IPL or you haven’t, you still have to work hard. And to me, IPL has no connection to the World Cup.

“Mentally, skill-wise, yes. If you have played well, you want to stay in the same zone and look to do the same things, but he’s [Kuldeep] a guy who has done so well in the last two years. I don’t think three or four games of a T20 tournament will do anything to harm his confidence, or hamper his confidence.

We know when he pitched the ball in the right areas the batsman has to make better decisions or you are walking out. That’s been a strength. And he’s back to bowling at his best. We saw that in the second game. In the nets he is bowling well, attacking the stumps, his variations are spot on, he is pitching the ball in the right area. So I see batsmen having to take better decisions against Kuldeep rather than the other way around.”

kedar jadhav world cup
Kedar Jadhav bats during one of India’s training sessions on England. © IANS

In regards to India’s team combination for the match against South Africa, Kohli remained tight-lipped but took confidence from how Kedar Jadhav has come along in the nets.

“We selected a side that gives us all kinds of options depending upon the conditions we are going to play in. Somewhere you might see three seamers, somewhere two wrist-spinners, somewhere you might see a wristspinner and a finger spinner playing together,” he said.

“That is why we selected the most balanced side we could have selected and Kedar is doing well, he is back to full fitness. Kedar is batting in the nets now, he is hitting the ball well, so it is always nice to have him back in the mix because of the variety he brings into the side.

So whenever he steps into the team, we know we have a guaranteed template of performance that Jadeja brings to the side in the field, with the ball and with the bat as well. So I think we have all our options covered. Looking at the pitch we will have discussions over what the balanced combination will be, but I think we are equipped to handle all kinds of conditions here.”