Virat Kohli sees tournament pressure reason behind England’s sudden struggle
Virat Kohli feels the pressure surrounding England at the World Cup is getting the better of them. (AFP Image)

BIRMINGHAM: Like most, England‘s sudden change in fortunes has left Virat Kohli surprised as well. The hosts began the tournament as co-favourites alongside India and until two weeks ago, seemed to be doing justice to the tag. But two losses in the last two games – one of those being a shock defeat to Sri Lanka – and from World Cup favourites, England have relegated to be termed World Cup hopefuls. ALSO READ: India’s middle order not a worry for Kohli

England need to win their remaining games – against India and New Zealand – to qualify for the knockouts but at the moment, it’s easier said than done. Pot shots have been fired between former and current players which clearly hasn’t helped. To make matters worse, Jason Roy still remains a doubtful starter, with an additional worry of Jofra Archer for England to cope with. ALSO READ: Desperate England seek upswing against rampaging India to keep semi-final hopes alive

Before the tournament started, Kohli reckoned that although the possibility of a total touching 500 cannot be ruled out, the actual pressure lies in chasing those tricky 240-250 totals, an area where England have struggled in the last two games. Against Sri Lanka, chasing 233, England fell short by 20 runs, whereas against Australia they were rolled over against the pace duo of Jason Behrendorff and Mitchell Starc. ALSO READ: Kohli unveils India’s away kit

“Everyone is a bit surprised that we thought England is probably going to dominate in their own conditions, but as I said at the beginning, pressure is going to be a massive factor to handle and low scores are going to be defended. I said that because I have played two World Cups and that usually happens in such a big tournament where all teams are very strong,” Kohli said.

“Anyone can beat anyone on the day. We got a scare from Afghanistan, another low-scoring game against the West Indies. So you can’t take anything for granted. The other teams have outplayed England on occasions, and that can happen to any side. Although we haven’t lost a game until now, we still can’t be complacent as a side. It is a bit surprising, but I expected something like that in the World Cup, where teams are going to be put under pressure.”

The India captain reckoned that without pressure, he would have not been the cricketer he is at the moment. It’s what keeps him ticking. No stranger to expectations, Kohli – who has struck four successive half-centuries – has the pressure of scoring a century. In 27 innings in England, Kohli has crossed 100 just once, which came way back in 2011. It’s been 37 games without a Kohli century in the World Cup and Sunday might be a possibility. But that doesn’t mean Kohli doesn’t feel being under the pump.

“It would be a lie if I said I am not under pressure [when I come out to bat]. I am probably good at hiding it. Everyone feels pressure and butterflies in their stomach,” he said. “I am glad I feel like that, if I didn’t I would probably not have enough motivation to play anymore. It’s not about what you have done before, it is about that particular day. Maybe that’s why my body language is the way it is. Everyone feels pressure, it’s just the way you portray it to the opposition is what makes all the difference.”

Despite a few lingering batting issues in the middle order, India do not have much to fret over. Their bowling unit – especially pacers Mohammed Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar – have emerged as the world’s most potent, capable of defending any total. Shami in particular has shown tremendous improvement in the last one year and created an immediate impact on the World Cup.

In two games, Shami has picked up eight wickets, including a match-winning hat-trick. Despite the toss-up between Shami and Bhuvneshwar Kumar bringing India a “problem of plenty”, Kohli couldn’t be happier with the way his pace battery is shaping up.

“He’s [Bhuvneshwar] been a world class bowler, and he’s a permanent starter for us in the shorter formats. Shami, in the last year and a half, has come around amazingly well. I’ve never seen him fitter, more hungry to take wickets. Even in the last game, the way he was bowling with the new ball on a pitch that was dry, that was amazing. He has that hunger within him, and he’s bowling really, really well at the moment,” Kohli pointed out.

“Bhuvi is recovering very fast. When he gets fit, it’s going to be a bit of a headache for us to see what we’re going to do, but we’ll take the best call for the team at that moment, and I’m sure everyone will understand.

“I’m very happy with the way Shami is bowling. Bumrah, I don’t think we even need to discuss him anymore because he’s separated himself from everyone else at the moment. But, yeah, very, very happy for Shami.”

Over the last one year, India and England have been jostling for the No 1 position in the ODI rankings. With their emphatic 125-run win over West Indies on Friday, India became the new No 1-ranked side in the world. For Kohli, rankings do hold importance but isn’t a priority.

“Obviously, if you finish a full season being at the top of a team ranking table, that is a great achievement for any side because you spend so much time together, you work hard towards so many things together as a team, and you come up in difficult situations,” Kohli said.

“But I think that’s all that is in terms of rankings, and you can only assess that at the end of the season. I’m sure any team will say no one actually targets being on top of the ranking table. You just want to play good cricket, and in that process, if it happens and you finish on top, it’s a cherry on top of the cake.”