By Amlan Chakraborty
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – 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 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.
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.
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in Manchester; editing by Pritha Sarkar)