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India vs South Africa: His Most Special World Cup Yet, But Kohli Has No 'Big Stage' Feeling

Karthik Lakshmanan |June 5, 2019, 10:44 AM IST
India vs South Africa: His Most Special World Cup Yet, But Kohli Has No 'Big Stage' Feeling

Southampton: "Firstly, we are very happy that finally we are going to start playing."

Virat Kohli's response to an unrelated question in the press conference ahead of India's World Cup opener in Southampton betrays his mindset. Kohli was speaking for his team, but it might well be about just himself. It's been a long wait, and he can't wait to get going.

It's Kohli's third World Cup. He has already been a part of victorious sides in a World Cup and Champions Trophy. He has even led his side to an Under-19 World Cup win. But none of those, not even the 2011 World Cup win, is likely to be as special as this one for Kohli.

Sample these words, to a YouTube channel last year, summing up Kohli's emotions after the 2011 victory.

"Honestly, I didn't feel as emotional as the other guys because it was my first World Cup. I saw the emotions in the guys that hadn't won it for five World Cups. Sachin hadn't done it, Bhajji, Yuvi, Zak were all emotional. MS was emotional because he led his idols to a World Cup. I didn't have any of those emotions. I pushed myself to (cry) because everyone was crying. I don't want to look the odd one out."

Eight years on, he's at the forefront of India's campaign in every way possible. Captain. Best batsman. Biggest name and brand, biggest crowd puller. Expect Kohli to be more emotional, and animated, than ever.

"It is a matter of great pride for me honestly. Playing the 2015 World Cup, I never imagined this day because a World Cup is too far off to think or predict anything," he said. "I think I'm just feeling grateful that I'm in this position to have the opportunity to lead my country in a tournament like the World Cup.

"It's always going to be a time to remember and a very special feeling so I'm really looking forward to the challenge. It is a different kind of responsibility. You need to be able to absorb a lot more. So I think from that point of view it's something that is really exciting me to have this kind of a challenge at this stage in my career."

Unless something dramatic changes in the future, Kohli will have all the records in the one-day game by the time he retires. He's just 30, and has 10843 runs with 41 centuries. Sachin Tendulkar's tally of 49 ODI tons is the first major record in danger. It's highly likely that Kohli would overtake his idol on that count by the end of the year. He could take significant steps in that direction this World Cup, where he'll play at least nine matches.

It's pointless to debate who the better batsman is based on stats. But if there is one leaf from the Tendulkar book that India would want Kohli to borrow, it's the one on World Cups. Tendulkar has scored a record 2278 runs from 45 matches across six World Cups at an average of 56.95, 12 more than his career average. He dominated three World Cups; he was the highest run-scorer in 1996 and 2003, and the second-highest in 2011 when India won.

Kohli has played 17 World Cup matches for 587 runs, averaging 41.92. It's a more than decent record, made to look small only by a career average of close to 60. He has played only two World Cups, began both with centuries before tapering off a little. That could change this time.

Kohli's record in World T20s and Champions Trophies, and other marquee clashes across formats, suggest the big stage is definitely not a hindrance for Kohli. That is because there is no such thing as big stage in his mind. A World Cup game against South Africa is the same as, say, a bilateral ODI against Ireland. Still doesn't make sense? Here's Kohli himself explaining how he feels ahead of the big World Cup game.

"Honestly, for me, I have this feeling before every game that I play. Honestly, I can't differentiate. Yes, if you just say the word 'World Cup', it brings a different kind of feeling to your mind and heart," he said.

"I don't think - apart from that when you step on to the field - as a cricketer, you really don't think like you are stepping into a World Cup game. Eventually, you go and play the game of cricket and that excitement and anticipation and a bit of nerves is the right combination that I have always had before every game that I play.

"2011, 2015, similar kind of butterflies in the stomach. Even when you walk into play in a Test match and you walk in at 10-2 you have the same butterflies in the stomach, so that is a very consistent factor and when that starts going down, you know what comes next. I'm glad it's gone on and it is going on and I'm feeling excited, anticipation and a bit of nerves as well which is always good for any sportsman to have, so it's pretty similar to the past."

There might be no 'big stage' for Kohli the individual, but it's not the same for the outside world. He might not agree, but for everyone else outside and with good reason, Kohli is India and India is Kohli. A World Cup might be just another game for him, but for the rest of the country, a World Cup is, well, a World Cup.

"Look, when you perform and you perform for a long time expectations are always there and I sort of understood how to go along with the expectations," he explained. "You don't go out there to prove anything to anyone, which is a fact, but you have to accept that expectations are going to be there.

"When I walk out to bat, come down the stairs, people will say we need a hundred and all those kind of things will happen. So, for me, that's just a part of the process now. It's not something that I don't want to hear, or something that I think people should not tell me because when you do well, people obviously want to see you do well again and again because they want to see the team win.

"So my focus is on if I'm in a position to be able to do that again, but more importantly make the team win, that will be my goal. And if it takes a 100 runs, 150, 50, 60, 70, 40, whatever it is, I'm ready to do that. That's the frame of mind I'm going to be in."

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Cricket World Cup Points Table

9 7 1 1 15 +0.80
9 7 2 0 14 +0.86
9 6 3 0 12 +1.15
9 5 3 1 11 +0.17
9 5 3 1 11 -0.43
9 3 4 2 8 -0.91
9 3 5 1 7 -0.03
9 3 5 1 7 -0.41
9 2 6 1 5 -0.22
9 0 9 0 0 -1.32

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3663 105
5 Australia 2640 98
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 6420 123
2 India 6807 122
3 New Zealand 4763 113
4 Australia 5470 112
5 South Africa 5193 110
see more
Rank Team Points Rating
1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 Australia 5471 261
5 India 7273 260
see more