Virat Kohli, like other Indian cricketers, has grown up following India-Pakistan contests passionately. As a fan of the game, Kohli must have erupted with joy every time he saw India beat Pakistan at the World Cup. All six times. Sachin Tendulkar, Kohli’s idol, was the Player of the Match in 1992 and 2003 – the first and final time Kohli followed the action from his TV set in West Delhi.
The next two occasions – in 2011 and 2015 – Kohli was part of India’s wins against Pakistan as the lead stretched to a phenomenal 6-0. That boyish Kohli by then was maturing into an international cricketer, on the path to greatness. But perhaps even the century in Adelaide four years ago doesn’t compare to the dynamic now. Kohli is the captain of India. And a seventh India-Pakistan World Cup clash beckons in a day’s time.
Surely, even after all these years, Kohli carries the passion of an India-Pakistan World Cup game, but has managed to master the art of channeling that same passion into professional aptitude. How else do you expect him and his bunch of players to not get carried away by the excitement of a match as big as this, whose tickets flew off like hot cakes and a contest for which over 400000 ticket applications were received by February?
Ten. Almost ten times, was Kohli, during the pre-match press conference, asked how he and the team are handling the hype that is India vs Pakistan. And on each instance, Kohli maintained his stance, saying, not in as many words, that it’s just another match.
“I can’t tell the fans to think of the game in a particular manner. For us, it’s a professional approach to the game, which is most important. We can’t get too emotional or too over excited with any occasion that we play in. So obviously, the mindset of the player is always going to be different from the fans. You can’t mix the two. You can’t expect the fans to think in a professional manner, focusing on each ball. Our attention span has to be very precise on the field because we have that split second to make a decision,” Kohli said.
“But from the fans’ point of view, looking at the atmosphere and frenzy around the game, I wouldn’t say it’s easy to think like a player. For the players, it’s very, very crucial to be absolutely professional and beat any team you’re up against. I mean, in a World Cup we’ll have full stadiums in every game. So it’s not going to be drastically different at one field than any of the other games. It’s going to be a full stadium, we know that. We expect that to happen in all the games that we play.”
When it comes to India and Pakistan, the pressure involved in unparalleled. And yet, “for us, it’s just another game” is a statement heard almost everytime an India captain is asked about nerves heading into the match. Nothing Kohli said on the eve of the match was much different to what has already been said but there were several key takeaways.
“We have literally discussed nothing different from the time we came to England. The mood, the atmosphere in the dressing room hasn’t changed. We understand that any game that you play for your country can be emotional, adrenaline filled, so no one game is more important or more special for us than the other,” Kohli pointed out.
“As cricketers who have been selected to play for their country, our responsibility is to treat every game equally because you have to be committed to play for your country every game that you play regardless of the opposition. For us, nothing in the change room is different. Nothing changes in our mindset. We are a top side in the world because of the cricket that we played, and we always need to remember that, and our focus is absolutely that.
“So the conversation, the chat in the changing room hasn’t changed at all, from the time we came to England and played our first game until now, and it’s not going to change in the future as well.”
But while Kohli remains unfazed despite the enormous pressure an India-Pakistan clash brings, he did admit that sometimes it is challenging to keep the youngsters free of nerves.
“I think the best way to approach something like this, if one focuses too much on what’s going on the outside, it’s to understand that the game starts tomorrow at a certain time and it finishes at a certain time, so it’s not going to last a lifetime for you, whether you do well or you don’t. That’s the one thing that, as cricketers, always keeps you grounded, always keeps you focused, because our tournament, whether we do well as a team or we don’t do well, tomorrow is not going to finish. So even if we have like a good performance as a team or a performance where we feel like we can improve in more areas, the tournament still has to go on,” said Kohli.
“So I think the focus always has to be on the larger picture, but on that particular day, you need to come out there as a team and execute the plans that you have as 11 guys on the field so that way no one person takes more pressure than the other, even if you talk about the youngsters on the side. They will feel like they have the support of seniors.
“As a whole unit, you understand that 11 guys share responsibility, and that’s been our message from the day that we came here and it’s all about the team.”