NOTTINGHAM: Virat Kohli says his job is simple: When India is fielding, he merely chooses which team-mate bowls next and lets them rip.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah soften up the opposition openers. Spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal build frustration through the middle overs. All-rounders Hardik Pandya and Kedar Jadhav probe for errors.
The formula has worked impressively in the World Cup against Australia and South Africa, so far. The Indians would love to carry it further when they face New Zealand at Trent Bridge here on Thursday.
“You just give them the ball in a situation and they know exactly what to do,” Kohli said of his bowlers. “I literally don’t have anything to plan with these guys because they do their skill so well, and they’re at the top of their game right now. I hope they stay in that mindset so that we can win the tournament.”
The captain has more influence than he admits, however. When Australia started their chase of 353 slowly last Sunday to preserve wickets, Kohli considered it a poor option, and he and the bowlers agreed they should pitch the ball up, make the batsmen play good shots when they wanted boundaries, and squeeze errors out of them.
Kohli believes they can defend any total, which will be put to the test by early World Cup pace-setters New Zealand., if the weather allows.
New Zealand have limited Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan to fewer than 250 runs each, and overcome all of them batting second.
The Black Caps pulled off the same trick in the warm-up match against India last month at The Oval. Trent Boult and Jimmy Neesham took seven wickets in bowling out India in 40 overs, then Ross Taylor and Kane Williamson defied India to bat New Zealand home with 13 overs to spare. The result heartened New Zealand, while India swept it under the carpet as just a warm-up.
Kohli is glad they’re seeing New Zealand again so soon in a real contest. By the end of Thursday, weather permitting, India will have played the three other semifinalists from the 2015 tournament. With the Pakistan blockbuster coming up on Sunday, Kohli is enjoying their schedule because it is making his team produce its best effort.
“We have to be at the top of our game,” he said. “Which is why we have won twice.”
But the first kink in the machine has appeared after opener Shikhar Dhawan broke his left thumb fending a riser from Australia paceman Pat Cummins. Dhawan batted on with the thumb bandaged for more than 20 overs to score a match-winning 117, but he’s not fit to play New Zealand or Pakistan, at least.
India hope the breakup of he and Rohit Sharma, one of the best partnerships in ODI history, will be somewhat repaired by the promotion of K.L. Rahul, who is appearing in his first World Cup. Sharma and Rahul will have to find chemistry when they open, but Sharma has already showed his confidence by earlier praising Rahul for his technique, composure and fearless attitude.
New Zealand are dealing with the opposite. After watching the same XI earn three wins from three games, batsman Henry Nicholls and paceman Tim Southee have returned to full fitness from injuries. The Black Caps have options to fiddle with their playing XI.
Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2019