Ahead of the crucial tie against Sri Lanka, Indian skipper Virat Kohli opened up on a range of topics in his pre-match conference. India and Sri Lanka clash in the Group B encounter at The Oval in the ongoing ICC Champions Trophy 2017. Kohli talked in brief about Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin and India’s chances moving ahead in the competition. Kohli believed that Pandya is a asset to Indian cricket, while complementing Ashwin about his understanding and maturity. Taking about the Sri Lanka tie, Kohli said that India should not be complacence or rather arrogant going into the clash.

Q. Virat, the way the Indian team has started – and other teams, I can say they are a bit scared because, just now the Sri Lankan team captain was saying, it’s very tough to beat an Indian team, unless we do something extraordinary. How does it feel when you hear like this? Captain from the opposite side talking like this?

VIRAT KOHLI: I think we are playing good cricket. We certainly know that as a team. I don’t think you should focus on the negatives when people are saying negative things about you as a team. Similarly, when you’re playing well, I don’t think you should look too much into the praise factor as well.

As a team, if you can focus on what is happening right and the things that are working for the team, then these things do not really matter. As a team, we do not focus on these things. We try to maintain the same kind of intensity and momentum regardless of how we are playing.

But, yes, at the moment we are playing some good cricket, but that doesn’t mean that we play with arrogance as a team. We respect every opposition the same way, and we intend to play the same kind of cricket against everyone. That’s the only way to win a game of cricket. But there are no guarantees. In this sport, anyone can upset anyone on their given day. This tournament being the top eight teams in the world, you certainly cannot even think of taking anyone lightly. All I can say is, as a team, we just want to focus on what we can do right and the things that are working for us.

Q. Question specific to Hardik Pandya. Unlike Rohit or yourself, he’s not a genuine batsmen or a genuine bowler. He’s a bit of both, more of an impact player or confidence player. As a captain, how do you handle him?

VIRAT KOHLI: He’s a real asset to Indian cricket, I would say. It’s very hard to find a guy who can almost touch 140 Ks and who strikes the way he strikes the ball, and he can bat through the innings as well. We saw that in the practice game. So if you give him 16, say 17 overs to bat, he can do that job for you as well.

He’s played a few good innings in the first-class circuit as well, really seeing off the new ball in testing conditions. So it’s really hard to find people with that kind of ability. Once you have a player like that, you need to make sure that he’s always committed, always motivated to give 100 percent for the team. That comes naturally to Hardik. So you don’t need to motivate him any further in any other way.

As I said, he’s a real asset for Indian cricket, and people should appreciate his skill and what he brings to the table. A lot of people focus on a lot of other things with Hardik, which I don’t think should be anyone else’s problem. He has his own journey, and he’s finding his own way. If he gets the kind of support that a player like him should get, I think he could go down as one of the most accomplished Indian cricketers in times to come.

Because he’s a fit guy. He’s superb in the field, superb with the ball, brilliant with the bat. So as I said, very hard to find a guy like that, and the kind of balance he brings to the team is priceless. That was on display the other day.

Q. A couple of points. Did you like any of us? We were doing a bit of bowling over there.

VIRAT KOHLI: I didn’t see long enough.

Q. We were hoping you would. Coming back to the Pakistan match, the win, all the drama, sort of emotional high, you play with a lot of passion in the middle, but when you are off the field, of course, you feel very, very calm. Was that an emotional high for you and the team? Is it a little flat after that?

VIRAT KOHLI: Not at all. We are just excited to be here in this tournament and be playing against the top teams in the world, starting out with Pakistan. As I said, the environment around the game is very exciting. As cricketers, we treat the game the same way.

We know wherever we play there are going to be big crowds. Indian fans really like to travel and support the team. And we see that everywhere in the world. So the environment is not going to change much. Especially if the team starts winning, then the buzz obviously gets bigger and bigger.

So I don’t see the environment getting flat after the first game. I think there’s only more excitement among the fans because they expect the team to play well, and when you start like that, they get even more involved. They make even bigger plans. More people come in. More friends fly in. Those sorts of things happen.

I think, as cricketers playing for India, anywhere in the world you get a good environment to play in. One should cherish that and seize the opportunity, but it’s very important how you play as a team as well. If you play exciting cricket, then, obviously, people come in and create that environment for you. As I said before, it’s a give and take. I don’t see the environment changing too much.

Q. Virat, after the last match, you said you need to improve your fielding. What exactly did you do? And how do you rate Sri Lanka as a side overall?

VIRAT KOHLI: As I said, it’s the top eight teams in the world. Sri Lanka in ICC tournaments, they’ve done really well. If you see their record over the years, they’ve always been a side that has always either reached semis or close to reaching the semis, and they’ve reached finals as well. So they have got talented players on their team, no doubt about that.

They’re a young team as well. They’re going through a transition phase, but they have the sort of players that can deliver match-winning performances on their day.

Apart from that, the fielding aspect, yes, I felt that maybe starting the tournament and having done so well with the bat, I think the guys wanted to bring in that extra energy, and sometimes, you know, the starting of the tournament, creating momentum as a team, you can misfield a few, and you can get over excited. There can be lapses as well, especially when the team is seven or eight down, and you know the game is going to get done soon. The complacency can come in. I’m not sure if it did, but that could be another factor.

But we addressed those things and asked the guys to be ruthless and finish games off because the teams that bat deep, they can get a 60-70-run partnership even in the end if there is a lapse in the field. In a tournament like this, I think you need to plug those holes in.

As I said, we identified that. We’re going to work hard as a team today in the fielding drills and improve that aspect going forward.

Q. Virat, a question regarding Ashwin. A champion performer, had a great Test season. After that, it’s purely combination, Jadeja has done really well and fits in. At a player, all champion performers have their egos. So how do the captain come in and how do you tell someone who’s been probably the number 1 spinner in the world for the past 12 months? What do you tell him when you leave him out?

VIRAT KOHLI: Ashwin is a high class bowler. Everyone knows that. And he’s very professional as well. He understood the dynamic of the side that we picked in the last game, and he was absolutely fine with it. You know, he’s just — he told me, I support you whatever you want to do. That’s always been our equation.

We’ve had no sort of — yes, we do have disagreements on bowling plans and all those sort of things because he’s a very smart guy and he has his own plans in place. All those things happen.

But in this case where team selection and all these things come into play, he’s very professional. He understands what the team demands. It’s a very nice thing and a beautiful thing about him that he always puts the team first.

He was the first guy who said, I have no problems with the kind of combination you’re going in with.

Q. Virat, when you’re batting through the middle, 25, 30 overs, like it was against Pakistan, who decides when to take on the bowlers if you’re having a long partnership? How do you go about deciding it? You or Rohit or whoever’s batting in the middle?

VIRAT KOHLI: It really depends on who’s striking the ball better in that particular phase of the innings. You get to know that as a batsman. You get to know who’s in a better mindset to take on the bowlers at the moment, who is more clear in their head in terms of getting the boundaries where they want to.

So we communicate immediately. You know, I’m feeling better, so I’m going to take on this bowler. Then you bat through, and we switch roles. Like what happened between me and Yuvi. Although Yuvi and me could not communicate for long enough because he started from very early in his innings, his intent was pretty clear. So I only had to take over after he got out.

But in a long partnership, as you mentioned, you get a feel of the game through the overs. There comes a span of two, three overs where you understand when a guy is shifting gears and you need to play the second fiddle to him.

It’s pretty easy. For guys watching outside, they might think there’s too much communication, but you sense it. As a cricketer who has played for so long, you sense where the game is heading and who’s in a better position to strike.

Q. You mentioned your 11 at Pakistan was pretty much keeping in mind the opposition. Looking at Sri Lanka, what kind of combination are you looking to go ahead with?

VIRAT KOHLI: We still haven’t spoken about the combination. We’re going to do that now at practice. Again, we’re going to look at how their batsmen react to different bowlers and all those sort of things, and then we decide on the combination.

Q. Virat, Mohammed Shami didn’t play the last game. Was that just a tactical selection in terms of the combination you wanted, or is he still feeling his way back in after injury?

VIRAT KOHLI: Shami hasn’t played 50-over cricket for a long time. I’m glad he bowled really well in the first few practice games, but I felt that Umesh, Bhuvi, and Bumrah had much more match practice and the performances to back that up in the last few series we played. A bowler like Shami will always be in your setup because we know about his abilities, and he’s the sort of guy that can win you games in any form of cricket.

Yeah, he’s feeling his way back into the groove, and he’s certainly an asset. If, God forbid, something happens to someone, then we already have another guy who’s ready to strike and has proven himself. This just shows our bench strength.

Q. Virat, in the last match, you had to take two important but slightly unpleasant decision, one was leaving out Ashwin and second was sending Hardik in place of MS. How hard were those decisions now looking back?

VIRAT KOHLI: Not hard at all. As I said, it’s very hard for people looking from the outside, but the kind of understanding we have within the team, it’s difficult to explain. We have a lot of respect among the players and trust among the players.

There’s no issues whatsoever — I mean, I’m not saying this because I want to make it sound good, but if you guys ever end up experiencing that team environment, you’ll understand what I’m saying, that there’s absolutely transparency — total transparency, and everyone respects and understands what we decide to do as a team.

I think that’s a beautiful thing to have, and all the guys, as I said, trust each other and believe in each other.

Q. How hard was it to make the decision?

VIRAT KOHLI: As I said, it wasn’t hard because I knew the guys would understand. If people react to it differently, then it becomes an issue, but if everyone is supportive of it, then you have no issues at all.