MANCHESTER: India captain Virat Kohli swatted aside talks about a duel with Pakistan speedster Mohammad Amir and played down the hype around Sunday’s World Cup blockbuster between the arch-rivals here at Old Trafford.
The nuclear-armed neighbours have gone to war three times since independence in the mid-20th century — and another conflict nearly erupted earlier this year, giving an even spicier-than-usual geopolitical backdrop to the contest.
India have an unblemished record in 50-overs World Cup against their neighbours having beaten Pakistan on each of the six encounters between the former champions.
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There has been plenty of hype surrounding Sunday’s sold out contest but Kohli refused to fuel it further.
“I think the best way to approach something like this... it’s not going to last a lifetime for you, whether you do well or you don’t,” Kohli said. “Our tournament, whether we do well as a team tomorrow or we don’t, is not going to finish... So I think the focus always has to be on the larger picture.”
The match was sold out hours after tickets went on sale for the 26,000-capacity stadium and millions more will be watching at home.
Kohli understands the fan sentiments but said the players have learned to cocoon themselves from the elevated expectations.
“I can’t tell the fans to think in a particular manner. For us, it has to be a professional approach to the game,” said the 30-year-old. “We can’t get emotional or over-excited with any occasion. Obviously the player’s mindset is different from the fans and you can’t mix these two.
“From fan point of view, looking at the atmosphere and frenzy around the game, I wouldn’t say it is easy to think like a player but for the players it’s very very crucial to be absolutely professional.”
An interesting sub-plot will be the showdown between Kohli, the world’s top-ranked ODI batsman, and Pakistan’s pace spearhead Amir who claimed five wickets against Australia in Taunton.
“You may not believe me but I see only the red or white ball, not the bowler delivering it,” said Kohli.
“You should always be wary of the strength of an impact bowler. You should also have the self-belief to do well against any bowler.
“Also, the match won’t be decided by my runs or his wickets. There are 10 players on each side, they also have to play well. I’m not entering any personal contest or competition,” he added.
“You got to play well regardless of the bowler. Even part-timers will get you out if you are not playing well. I keep my game simple.”
Kohli acknowledged Pakistan have “a lot of talent” in their ranks but preferred to talk about his own team instead.
India won their first two matches but split points with New Zealand after Thursday’s washout at Trent Bridge.
The threat of rain looms large over Sunday’s match as well and Kohli said weather would influence India’s combination.
“The conditions and length of the game will obviously make us consider a few combinations that we could potentially go with in this match.
“We’ll have to be flexible... If conditions are very different from what it was in our last game, we’ll have to think of different combinations, identifying areas to strengthen, especially in our bowling attack.”
Stumper-batsman Rishabh Pant, who flew in as cover for injured opener Shikhar Dhawan, joined rest of the Indian squad in their training session under an overcast sky at Old Trafford.
'We can beat any team'
Meanwhile, while acknowledging that his team has not played a perfect game yet at the World Cup. Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur said if Pakistan put all disciplines together, then they can beat any opponent.
“If we put three disciplines together, we can beat anyone in the world. We haven’t put a perfect game yet, we are confident of displaying perfect cricketing skills. If we put it all together, we are a good cricket team,” Arthur told reporters during a news conference at Old Trafford on Saturday.
When asked about whether the India-Pakistan match has more pressure on the players, he said each game comes with a different kind of challenge.
“There’s pressure on each and every game. We are excited about tomorrow and we are pretty confident that we will perform to the best of our ability,” Arthur said.
Arthur said it will be difficult to rattle the Indian top-order but if Pakistan fail to do so then they would pose a challenge to them.
“When you get into Indian top-order, you can wreak havoc. It’s paramount to rattle the Indian top-order, otherwise, they can hurt you. [Shoaib] Malik brings a lot of experience in our dressing room. I hope his skills and experience do wonders for us tomorrow. Experienced players can help the youngsters in our team,” the coach insisted.
Arthur said that he had a look at the pitch on Friday and he opined that the 22 yards look quite flat.
“We had a look at the pitch yesterday and it looked quite flat. We have been close in most of our games [at the World Cup]. There were moments that presented an opportunity for us, you are not going to win each game, but it’s paramount to latch on to every opportunity.”
Arthur said the team will make the final call on the playing XI on Sunday after looking at the weather conditions.
The Pakistan head coach urged his players to become heroes by beating bitter rivals India in a World Cup match for the first time at Old Trafford.
Arthur has told his players to rise to the occasion. “It doesn’t get more exciting,” he said. “I am telling our players in the dressing room, you could be a hero tomorrow.”
Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2019