Virat Kohli is contented with his understated role in India’s batting line-up at the World Cup as he admitted the pressure is constantly on his side ahead of their semi-final showdown against New Zealand.
Kohli is often held up as the gold standard in one-day internationals, with 41 centuries at an average approaching 60 helping him top the format’s ICC batting rankings.
However, he has yet to reach three figures in this tournament, with Rohit Sharma India’s standout performer with the bat so far.
The opener became the first man to register five centuries in a single World Cup campaign, contributing 103 – his third hundred in a row – to help India brush aside Sri Lanka over the weekend and finish top of the group table.
Kohli, though, is happy to defer to his team-mate – now second in the world rankings – saying on the eve of their clash against the Kiwis at Old Trafford: “It’s been a different kind of role that I’ve had to play in this World Cup.
“As the captain of this team, I’ve been open to playing any kind of role that the team wants me to. It’s great that Rohit is scoring so consistently.
“I’ve been very happy with holding one end and letting guys express themselves. I know that I can accelerate in the end. Personal milestones, honestly, is something that no one ever focuses on.
“But I hope he gets two more (hundreds) so that we can win two more games because it’s an outstanding achievement, we’ve never seen anyone get five hundreds in a World Cup.
“World Cup is all the more pressure and he’s just been outstanding. He deserves all the credit and, according to me, he’s at the moment the top ODI player in the world.”
Champions in 2011, India were knocked out at the semi-final stage four years ago, Kohli participating in both campaigns, but they have been tipped by many to go all the way again this time.
With expectation comes an intense level of pressure but Kohli revealed that is par for the course for his side as a result of the cricket obsession in India.
He believes being regularly expected to shoulder the burden – not only for the national team but in high-profile events such as the Indian Premier League – means India will handle the tight moments better than the Black Caps.
He said: “The Indian team always carries a lot of expectation and pressure whenever we play.
“We are quite used to that over the years. We are better equipped to react in these situations because we know what these kind of games and our fan base and the expectations bring.
“I can’t remember the last time I stepped onto the field and thought ‘It doesn’t really matter what happens in this game’.
“For the Indian team there is always full stadiums and people expect you to do well. There’s always pressure, as well as opportunity.”
The team that has batted first at Old Trafford has prevailed in all five matches here at the World Cup, but Kohli said: “We are not worried about the toss. It’s an uncontrollable. You can’t predict what’s going to happen.
“You have to be prepared both ways. We are quite open to that. And if it is a factor, it’s a factor.
“We can’t say if we lose the toss we have no hope. We should believe enough in ourselves as a side to overcome any situation.”
Tuesday’s fixture is not the first time Kohli and New Zealand captain Kane Williamson have gone head-to-head in a World Cup semi-final, having faced off for their countries at Under-19 level in February 2008.
On that occasion, India triumphed – and Kohli even bagged the crucial wicket of Williamson.
However, Kohli said with a smile: “I got Kane’s wicket? Did I? I don’t know if that can happen again.
“I’m sure he remembers and when we meet tomorrow, I’m going to remind him.”
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New Zealand have lived up to their tag of being historic overachievers in the ICC World Cup with the Black Caps now set to become only the third team in history to make four consecutive semi-final appearances.
It has very much been a campaign of two halves for Kane Williamson and his men, who went unbeaten for six games to make a blazing start in the competition. In the end, they just about managed to sneak into the last four on the basis of their superior net run-rate compared to Pakistan.
However, the wheels have started to come off of late with the side arriving in the semi-final on the back of three straight losses against Pakistan, England and Australia.
A maiden World Cup title is now within their sights but the fact that they didn’t beat any of their fellow semi-finalists in the tournament does not augur well for facing India at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
WHAT’S WORKING FOR THEM
A formidable pace attack carried New Zealand in the early stages of the tournament with Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult and Matt Henry all on song with the ball. The bowling has generally been on point for the Kiwis with the 305-8 scored by England being the only instance in which they have conceded more than 300 runs in an innings.
Together, the trio has picked up 42 wickets among themselves while all-rounder James Neesham has chipped in with 11 wickets of his own.
Williamson to the rescue
With the bat, skipper Williamson has remained a class apart with the right-hander racking up 481 runs at an average of nearly 100 with the help of two tons.
The Kiwi stalwart has been at his resilient best and has helped bail his side out of some tricky situations with the openers in horrible form. Neesham has been a substantial contributor in this regard as well with the all-rounder chipping in with 201 runs.
WHERE ARE THEY STILL SUSCEPTIBLE
The opening duo of Colin Munro and Martin Guptill have failed to come to the party for New Zealand with both batsmen struggling for form.
Both the openers are averaging under 25 with the bat in the tournament and have put the team on the backfoot time and time again.
Guptill has scored just 93 runs in his last seven innings while Munro has been continued his poor run in the format. Henry Nicholls has been tried twice in the slot but managed to score just eight runs in total.
While Williamson has been excellent with the bat, the rest of New Zealand’s batting order has plenty of holes with several key batsmen out of form.
The Kiwi skipper himself has contributed with more than 30 per cent of the 1,591 runs scored in total by the team so far. That statistic reflects poorly on the rest of the batting order with the likes of Munro, Guptill and Tom Latham being the biggest culprits.
Even stalwart Ross Taylor has been below par so far with the right-hander yet to really stamp his authority bar two half-centuries. Batting failure was the cause of New Zealand’s defeats against Australia, England and Pakistan and it could cost them again in the business end if Williamson fails to click.
The New Zealand skipper is approaching nearly 500 runs in the campaign and has almost single-handedly dragged the batting unit into the final four.
The 28-year-old has played the anchor role to perfection for the team and the fact that he has scored more than 40 runs in all innings bar one speaks volumes about his incredible consistency.
Williamson has constantly been under early pressure due to New Zealand’s severely misfiring openers but he more often than not passed the test with flying colours. He remains key to the side’s hopes of making a successive appearance in the final but he will need the rest of the batsmen to finally come to the party if New Zealand are to go all the way, which is partially his responsibility as captain.
6️⃣0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ ODI runs for #KaneWilliamson— Cricket World Cup (@cricketworldcup) June 29, 2019
The Black Caps skipper is the third-fastest to the landmark, after Hashim Amla and #ViratKohli
What a player 👏 #CWC19 | #BACKTHEBLACKCAPS | #NZvAUS pic.twitter.com/tpEVtEURvx
It has not been a campaign without its hiccups and stutters for England but the hosts still remain on course to break their 50-over World Cup title drought.
Eoin Morgan and his men were widely regarded as the favourites heading into the World Cup but those credentials were starting to wear thin after shock defeats to Pakistan and Sri Lanka before a loss to Australia.
Those three defeats nearly derailed England’s semi-final ambitions with their fate hanging in the balance before their fixtures against India and New Zealand. However, the hosts responded in brilliant fashion with two comprehensive victories over their two fellow semi-finalists to keep their maiden World Cup title dream alive.
WHATS WORKING FOR THEM
England’s power-packed and deep batting unit was always going to be team’s primary strength in the tournament and that has been the case so far.
The hosts have managed to scale the 300-run barrier in six of their nine innings with a 397-6 being their best batting display. Joe Root has been the glue which hold the batting unit together with the right-hander amassing 500 runs while openers Jonny Bairstow (462) and Jason Roy (341) also starting to come into their own this tournament.
The middle-order fireworks have been provided by Morgan (317) along with star all-rounder Ben Stokes (381) who is having a stellar individual campaign.
Archer and Wood lead strong pace attack
The introduction of Jofra Archer has also transformed England’s pace attack with the Barbados-born bowler picking up 17 wickets and counting in nine games. Not far behind Archer has been Mark Wood with the pacer cranking up the heat on his way to 16 wickets while Chris Woakes has been excellent of late with the new ball in hand.
Liam Plunkett has been an excellent foil in the middle-overs and the bowling unit has only been strengthened since his return to the playing XI.
WHERE ARE THEY STILL SUSCEPTIBLE
Chasing under pressure
While England’s batting firepower has shone on several occasions in the tournament, it has also been made to look ordinary when the pressure has been applied. The hosts are near unstoppable when it comes to batting first but their vulnerabilities and shortcomings have been exposed time and again when it comes to chasing.
Morgan’s men have won all five games where they have batted first in the World Cup but have tasted three defeats in four while chasing. They were particularly dismal in their loss to Sri Lanka where they fall short in a chase of just 233 at Headingley.
The pressure always seems to get to them in tricky run chases and it will only be amplified in the knock-out clashes with a trophy ever so close.
Spinners out of form
Their spin attack hasn’t been the most convincing as well with Adil Rashid averaging more than 54 with the ball while Moeen Ali has been out of favour since a string of poor displays.
While England will probably go in with a four-man pace attack at Edgbaston against Australia, they will need to play one spinner and the defending champions will look to target this weakness.
While Root and Archer have been key with bat and ball respectively for England, it has been Stokes who has been the X-factor.
The all-rounder has been in the thick of the action with ball and bat and has always managed to put his hands up when the chips have been down for his team.
Seven wickets with the ball and 317 runs with the bat have been Stokes’ key contributions so far and he has already played match-winning knocks against South Africa and India. He was unfortunate to end up on the losing side against Australia after a valiant 89-run knock.