Cricket World Cup 2019: Rohit Sharma is currently the best ODI player in world, says Virat Kohli

Team India have won seven of their group games, lost only one against England and the match against New Zealand was washed out due to bad weather without a ball being bowled. 

Cricket World Cup 2019: Rohit Sharma is currently the best ODI player in world, says Virat Kohli Image Courtesy: ICC

India are set to clash with New Zealand in the first semi-final of ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019 at Manchester on Tuesday. The Men In Blue are seen by many as the favourites to win the match because of their superb performance in the group stage. It is to be noted that India have finished on top of the points table 15 points from 9 matches. Team India have won seven of their group games, lost only one against England and the match against New Zealand was washed out due to bad weather without a ball being bowled. 

On the other hand, the Black Caps have finished at fourth place in the points table with a total of 11 points in their kitty. The Kane Williamson-led side had started their World Cup campaign on a high by winning their first five games but they failed to keep the momentum in the last three games against Pakistan, Australia and England. Experts maintain that the Kiwis would find it tough to get past beyond India to reach the final because they have a tendency of crumbling in big matches. 

Ahead of the all-important clash against New Zealand, India skipper Virat Kohli addressed a press conference on Monday and expressed confidence that his side will perform superbly in Tuesday's match as well and book a place in the final. Kohli expressed happiness over Rohit Sharma's red-hot form in the tournament and said that he will pray that the India opener scores two more centuries in the World Cup. The Indian skipper added that Sharma is currently the best ODI player in the world.

Here is the full transcript of his interview which was published on the ICC official website:

Q1. Good morning. 11 years before in Malaysia, U19 World Cup, the two captains are now the same captains in different tournament at the World Cup. Could you anticipate that this will repeat in 2019? Can you tell us the journey?

VIRAT KOHLI: No, not at all. Actually, I'll remind Kane also, I'm sure he remembers, when we meet tomorrow I'm going to remind him. It is quite a nice thing to realise that 11 years after we captaining our respective nations again in a Senior World Cup from U19. So yeah, we have spoken about it before. A lot of players from that whole World Cup, from our batch, from their batch, from other teams as well, made it to the national teams and are still playing, which is I think a great thing to see.

Yes, so I think it's a really nice memory and we'll both feel good about knowing that this is happening and no-one, neither me nor him, could have ever anticipated that one day this will happen, but yeah it is a really nice thing.

Q2. You got his wicket?

VIRAT KOHLI: I got Kane's wicket? Did I? (Laughter).

Q3. Yes.

VIRAT KOHLI: I don't know if that can happen again now (laughter).

Q4. How is the mood in the side? How did you guys react to the last-minute change in travel plans from Leeds to Birmingham coming here?

VIRAT KOHLI: We are very happy because it was only one hour compared to three hours on the bus. So very happy with the change in travel and Manchester is a great city to be in also, so all the guys were very happy.

The mood is great. Everyone is very relaxed, very confident. And look, all the teams worked hard to get to these moments and now whoever plays better on the day we know that things are as simple or as complicated as that. So, we are all looking forward to it.

It's been a long tournament, it's been a lot of hard work, a lot of intense games, so yeah, we are really, really happy that we have made it to the semis and now there's only opportunity that lies in front of us and everyone is very excited for it.

Q5. When you remind Kane, remind him of the result also, the U19s. Is there a change in mindset when you approach a knockout compared to what you have played so far in terms of the nine games of the pool stages? If so, how does the team sort of prepare for a knockout and you have no chance to slip?

VIRAT KOHLI: Well, it is a little bit different, if I have to be totally honest. League stages, when you know that you need a victory to qualify, the team is a bit more relaxed and you know you can go out then and try a few things. But I think knockout games you need to be very precise at the same time being intense. So I think that balance...

This is more similar to, you know, the toughest situations you get in Test cricket where you have to be absolutely precise but your intent cannot go down so decision-making will be crucial.

Both teams are experienced enough to have played these games. New Zealand were in the final last time and they know how to play knockout games, they have had a wonderful World Cup again. So they are a quality side.

But on the day, whichever team is more brave in being calculated I think that team stands a better chance to win. So yeah, we understand that combination. We have made it to a lot of knockout games and finals. So it is up to both the teams to bring their A-game and whoever handles pressure better is the team that is going to come out on top. We certainly are looking forward to doing that.

Q6. What is your assessment of the New Zealand attack? How do you sum up the performance of the Indian attack so far?

VIRAT KOHLI: Well, according to me, our bowling attack has been up there with the best, if not the best bowling attack in the competition. I think the way we have bowled in low-scoring games, even coming back into the match when the guys have been hit, I think they have shown a lot of character.

And the New Zealand attack has always been a very balanced bowling attack. Their pacers are very consistent. Mitchell Santner brings in a lot of control with his skills in the middle overs. So they are a team which has always been a very consistent team, so we know that against them we'll have to be very, very disciplined, at the same time we will have to play very correct cricket to score runs against them because they are bowling good lines and lengths and they know what they are doing.

So we have to be sure of what we are doing and that's the kind of challenge that the team brings. They put the ball in the right areas and then make you play good shots. So, it's going to be a nice battle.

We have played against them a lot. But they are a quality side and very, very potent bowling attack.

Q7. Personally, you have never not been in a World Cup semi, so what was the mood like after the win in Mohali and after the loss in Sydney?

VIRAT KOHLI: Very, obviously, very contrasting. The win in Mohali was my first World Cup and we make it to the finals and playing at home and the whole atmosphere was brilliant so getting to experience that for me as a youngster was something magnificent.

2015, I was more of an established player and not being able to get the team across the line was obviously very disappointing for all of us.

This time around, because the format has been different, and we understand the tournament has been long, guys have put in a lot of effort day in day out and to realise we have achieved the first goal that we wanted to which was to qualify for the semis, that gives you an extra boost of energy.

Now we can focus totally on the remaining two games that we have in the tournament and try to bring our A-game and take up the intensity even more.

I think those -- that incentive is very important to realise as a team that you have done what you wanted to do as a first goal. And now you can be even more intense and energetic when you step on to the field. It gives you more energy knowing we are entering the last phase of the tournament. Bodies are not going to be as fresh but these kind of things motivate you even further to put in more energy so we are quite happy after qualifying.

Q8. Rohit has got five hundreds so far. It is unusual you haven't got any. Are you missing the hundred, considering the consistency with which you get them?

VIRAT KOHLI: No, not at all. It's been a different kind of role that I've had to play in this World Cup and, as the captain of the team, I have been open to playing any kind of role that the team wants me to, so it's great that Rohit is scoring so consistently which means that coming in the later half of the innings you have to play a different role which is controlling the middle overs and letting guys like Hardik, Kedar, MS in the past few games, and now Rishabh, come out and express themselves.

So I have understood that roles can vary a lot in one-day cricket, depending on the time you step into bat, and I have been very happy with holding one end and letting guys express themselves striking at 150, 160 or 200 if the team needs and I can accelerate in the end.

Personal milestones honestly is something that no-one ever focuses on. Rohit said the same thing the other day. He is only trying to do the best for the team and in that process special things happen which is something that I have always believed in in my career so far and I could never imagine that I could get the number of hundreds I have and the only focus has always been the team.

So I think playing a team sport you need to adapt and I'm very happy doing that role and I hope he gets two more so we can win two more games (smiling). It's an outstanding achievement. I have never seen anyone get five hundreds in a World Cup, be any tournament, so World Cup is all the more pressure and he has been outstanding and he deserves all the credit. According to me, he is at the moment the top ODI player in the world.

Q9. Back to the 2008 U19 game, I know you said that you didn't envisage you playing off against Kane again. Did you see him at that time as being a future superstar and how crucial is getting him out early to you guys winning the game?

VIRAT KOHLI: Yeah, absolutely. It's not even 2008, I remember 2007 we went to New Zealand and we were playing an U19 Test match and he played a shot off one of our fast bowlers, who was quick, off the back foot and I remember standing in slips and telling guys standing at slip, "I have never seen anyone play a shot like that" and he was special, along with a couple more guys, which didn't make it surprisingly.

But he was always the stand-out player and you could see when we played New Zealand in New Zealand on that U19 tour and the World Cup again he was quite special for them. So we always knew he has the special ability to go all the way and now he's controlling the tempo of the game for New Zealand every game that he plays and he's contributing so well.

And he's a lovely guy. We get along very well. So he's always been the main guy for them, along with Ross, who has performed really consistently as well. Those two guys have shared the load so far and a lot will depend on them obviously because they have been playing well and according to us, getting both of them early will be crucial because we know how strong they can be together in a partnership.

Yeah, it's -- not to mention here, but Kane and Ross are probably their main guys in the batting line-up.

Q10. The pressure on your team to perform is immense, I guess it is similar to the New Zealand All Blacks team at a World Cup. How do you think Indian fans would feel if India lost at this stage in the tournament to New Zealand?

VIRAT KOHLI: Exactly the way New Zealand fans would feel if they lost (laughter). It's quite natural. Everyone feels disappointed when you come to a stage of a tournament like this and you don't make it through.

But look, yeah, the Indian team always carries a lot of pressure and expectation wherever we play and we are quite used to that over the years to be honest.

Yeah, we are better off -- I think we are better equipped to react well in these situations because we know what these kind of games and our fanbase and the expectations brings, so I think disappointment is equal on either side.

I wouldn't agree if you said New Zealand won't be disappointed if they lose. Our aim and our focus is obviously on winning and, as I said, whichever team plays better will win.

Q11. Your fifth game in less than two weeks. You have been travelling a bit as well. What have you done to retain your physical and mental freshness?
VIRAT KOHLI: Well, again, this turnaround was very fast after the last game, a day of travel, today one practice day, so guys, depending on the workloads which is provided by our trainers and physios, we understand which player needs to take a break from practice because having played so many games you don't necessarily need to go hit balls again because you have practiced so much, you have played in the middle as well.

Same for the bowlers. I mean, it is about staying fresh now, mentally understanding that your body feels good and that mental cushioning that you have knowing that you can put in all your energy on game day is very crucial.

I think adjusting, according to your schedule in terms of taking off from practice and managing rest days, is the most crucial thing and that is something we have done well and that is why our energy levels have been able to stay right up there. Guys not coming for optional practices and stuff has really helped because you can easily come to practice and exert yourself and not recover in time.

Those things are very crucial especially when you are on the road so much in between games as well and I think we have managed it well so far.

Q12. You have played New Zealand quite a few times in the recent past. How do you find it is when you play an opposition in a bilateral series and in a World Cup game?
VIRAT KOHLI: For the Indian team, every game is full of pressure, so we have never felt like any game has been easy for us at all.

I can't remember the last time I stepped on to the field and felt like "It doesn't matter what happens in this game." For the Indian team there are always full stadiums and people expect you to do well, and there is always pressure, as well as opportunity. So as I said, we are well-equipped to handle those kind of situations.

But I think a World Cup knockout game brings that much more attention and excitement on the outside and the atmosphere is going to be very different from a bilateral series. So just to be able to soak that in and focus on what we need to do is going to be probably, going to be the only challenge that we face in terms of it being different from a bilateral series.

But otherwise you have to play good cricket to win a game of cricket and that's been our focus this World Cup and I don't think we would change that because it's a knockout game, it is very important to treat it as a game of cricket and do what we are known to do.

Q13. As a batting unit, you guys pride yourself to be very flexible and we have seen that over the last two years and there have been a lot of changes in this tournament, Rahul moving up, you know the changes. How would you describe the evolution of your batting line-up in this tournament and how has it impacted the way you have batted personally?

VIRAT KOHLI: I'm glad you didn't say "Is it the ideal 11?" (Smiling). But jokes apart, look, as I said, I mean, having played 10 years, 11 years in the team now, it's my responsibility to play a role according to the team's needs and I have been very happy if I walk in in a situation where I understand that I need to play in a certain manner, I'm open to do that because I have walked in a few times as a No. 4 so I have had to control the innings in the middle overs and I have learnt so much in this World Cup, along with spending time in the middle that okay, this is also a role that you are supposed to play and when situation arises you have to do that for the other guys to express themselves knowing that one I'm controlling an end and holding it to the end.

So yeah, it's been nice, it's been a different kind of a challenge for me and I have really enjoyed it rotating strike and understanding how to play in those middle overs, and allowing the others guys to come out and express. Hardik is at 4, now Rishabh is batting at 4 so these guys can strike from ball one knowing that they have a lot of batting behind them.

And I think to go a long way in a tournament like this you need to be flexible, especially going with the situation of the game. You can't have a set batting order from ball one to ball 300 because a lot of situations change and I think we've handled it well.

We have gone along with the pace of the game and that is why we have won the number of games that we have had and we intend to do the same.

If the situation presents itself where the opening partnership is outstanding and someone needs to go at No 3 and strike the ball, it is absolutely open to do that. So to win a tournament like this you need to be very flexible and think on your feet and I think we have done that well so far and hopefully we can do the same thing in two more games.

Q14. All the matches here have been won by the team batting first. Are you worried the toss might be too important? I know India have chased well on occasion. Why do you think batting second has been so difficult for so many sides at this World Cup?
VIRAT KOHLI: Well, it comes back to the same point, handling pressure. You make two bad decisions while you are chasing and the game goes away from you, too far to pull it back. So I assume that that is going to be the case because having been in so many chases, I understand that the pressure can be very high if you don't go with the pace of the game and then understanding the magnitude of the tournament like this you probably are going to end up making a couple of mistakes and the opposition is not going to let you off after that.

So we are not worried about the toss. It is an uncontrollable. You can't predict what is going to happen at the toss. We have to be prepared both ways and we are quite open to do that. And if it is a factor, it's a factor, so we can't say if we lose the toss, we have no hope because we should believe enough in ourselves as a side to overcome any kind of situation. So I think all teams prepare in that manner. It's a stat which I think is connected to pressure and not the pitch, to be very honest.

Q15. The last two games you played with five bowlers. There was no fall-back option. Given this is a knockout game, is there a chance of reviewing the plan and is there a chance the two spinners coming back?

VIRAT KOHLI: It is quite possible. Yes, we played with five bowling options because it gives us more depth in batting and mentioning the toss factor as well, if you are chasing a big total, then you need a bit more depth in batting.

So yes, we played with five. We are up to reviewing that. Otherwise... I was just told I got Kane out so I can bowl any time. I'm quite little. As long as I don't slip on the pitch (smiling).

Yes, having said that, it's open for a discussion because we need to be very balanced with what we take into the field. At the same time, we need to make sure that the battling is deep enough for us to be chasing a score and being solid about that also.

Five bowlers has worked well, but it's up for discussion.

Q16. There's been a lot of talk about MS, the batsman. I want to talk about MS, the personality in the team. This might be his last World Cup for all we know.

VIRAT KOHLI: Thank you.

Q17. What is it -- I'm not talking about the pressure -- what is it like, the mood in the camp? Yesterday he celebrated his birthday. How much does it weigh on you as a captain and the dressing room knowing that this might be his last World Cup? What do you want to give him? Like you gave a statement about Tendulkar in 2011 after winning the World Cup. Is there something special that you want to send him off with?

VIRAT KOHLI: I didn't prepare that one in 2011 so I'm certainly not going to write anything down. But yeah, I'm sure everyone, if you asked them about him, they have special things to say. And especially for us who started our careers under him. For us that doesn't change. The respect will always be there because of the opportunities that he gave us and the faith that he showed in us and the way he's handled the whole team in transition over so many years.

And now we are the ones who are taking Indian cricket forward. We understand the importance of that process. So I'm glad you asked about MS, the personality, because a lot has been in focus otherwise.

But yeah, look, when a person has done so much for the team you have to appreciate and acknowledge what he's done for Indian cricket and how he's handled Indian cricket and taken the respect for Indian cricket so high all over the world.

So yeah, from that point of view, we are all very grateful for what he's done for Indian cricket and for us. And he's always been in a very happy, jovial mood all the time whenever we see him and yesterday again was a very happy moment for him, for the whole team, to see a smile on his face and he's in a very comfortable, very happy space at the moment.

I'm not thinking of anything apart from that because the main focus right now is to do what we need to do tomorrow and then on to another one hopefully and yeah, just have a good World Cup.

But from the respect point of view for MS, it's always going to be sky-high, especially in my eyes, because I know how difficult it can be to make a transition of captaining also, you know, within the same team, just playing as a player after being captain for so many years and still not being too assertive or too pushy in anything. He gives you space to make your own decisions and to actually discover yourself, so I think that's been his biggest quality.

At the same time, I go ask him anything, he's there giving me advice and he's never shying away from that. So yeah, he's been outstanding and I'm delighted that I have been able to play for so many years alongside him.

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