Birmingham: Indian captain Virat Kohli said he “felt like a club batter” when teammate Yuvraj Singh was in full flow in the ICC Champions Trophy win against Pakistan here, crediting the left-hander for taking the pressure off him.
Defending champions India started their Champions Trophy campaign with a resounding 124-run victory over arch-rivals Pakistan.
Kohli and Yuvraj stood out in an all-round batting effort, propelling India to 319 for three after rain halted proceedings twice. Yuvraj smashed 53 off 32 balls, while Kohli made 81 off 68 deliveries.
“The way he (Yuvraj) was hitting the ball, I felt like a club batter in front of him,” Kohli told reporters at the post-match press conference.
“…After I got to 50, I wasn’t able to freely play. And Yuvi came in and just took all the pressure off me. And the way he batted was the way only he can strike the ball, hitting low full tosses for fours and sixes, and even digging out yorkers for fours was outstanding.
“I think that really deflated the opposition and that gave me a bit of time to settle in from the other end. When he got out, I took over. But I think his innings was a difference in the game,” he added.
While he was pleased with the win, Kohli was not impressed with India’s fielding.
“With the bat and ball, right up there — I would say nine out of 10. In the field we were still 6. It’s a very strong performance, we’ve taken the confidence from the practice games.
“We need to tighten our fielding to compete hard against the best teams,” he said.
The Indian batsmen remained focussed despite the rain breaks with Rohit Sharma (91 off 119), Shikhar Dhawan (68 off 65), Kohli and Yuvraj rising to the occasion in a game reduced to 48-overs-a-side affair.
“I think the way Shikhar batted was really good to see. Rohit was taking a bit of time because, understandably so, he’s come back after so long to international cricket. IPL is different, but international runs are very different, against a quality bowling attack as well,” Kohli said.
“And Hardik, 18 off five balls, was outstanding. We went with four seamers purely because we’re playing Pakistan. They play spin really well, and most of them are right-handers.
“In pressure situations, to have mid-on, mid-off up and hit hard lengths, gives us an advantage. Against other sides, we might use two spinners, depending on their strengths,” he added.
Asked what it meant to play against Pakistan given the continuing tensions between the two countries, Kohli chose to offer a diplomatic reply.
“This one’s done and dusted…We come here to play the sport. And that’s all we focus on. It’s not my place to speak of any other decisions. The higher officials take care of those decisions,” he said.
“My opinion does not matter and should not matter. It’s up to them what they decide going ahead. But regardless of who you play, you just want to play cricket,” he added.
“It’s not preferences over opposition. And that’s all I can say to this.”
Nonetheless, Kohli said, he does enjoy the competitiveness of Indo-Pak cricket rivalry.
“They’re a very competitive side. The atmosphere is great. From that regard, as a cricketer, we really enjoyed this game, that’s all I can say,” he said.
Reflecting on his own performance, Kohli said he let the momentum slip after reaching 40 and regretted trying too hard for big hits during his partnership with Yuvraj.
“But when he got out, I decided to stay still and just back the strokes that I have and a few connected, and that’s what happens in this sport. Momentum comes your way; it goes away.
“But you’ve got to stay patient. And when it comes back, you’ve got to capitalise on it. So I believed in myself, I can get 30 off 10 balls as well in the end,” he explained.
Kohli credited Yuvraj for his knock as well.
“Maybe I should have just let Yuvi take the initiative at that stage, not try to hit from the other end. But when you’re out there, you just want to get 15 extra for the team,” he said.
“It’s a tricky situation. But glad I was able to see it through today and end on a high, probably ended up getting 15, 20 more than we thought of, purely because of the way he batted,” Kohli added.
Man-of-the-Match Yuvraj was happy that he could capitalise on the chances offered by the Pakistanis.
“I thought we all batted really well. The openers gave us a good start, Virat finished well, and it gave me the opportunity to go and attack. You just have to go and back yourself, and tell the opposition that you’re here to attack,” he said.
“I was lucky I was dropped, but I capitalised and I was hitting it well. I finished well. India-Pakistan is always a big game, and I think it has set us up really well. Hopefully we’ll take this confidence into the next game against Sri Lanka.”
On the decision to send Hardik Panya ahead of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Kohli said it was based on the former’s ability to strike it big from the first ball itself which dictated the move.
“It was unbelievable the way he came out. And we switched in the end. They asked whether we should send Hardik ahead of MS. And everyone agreed, because he just can strike the ball from ball one and has unbelievable ability,” Kohli said.
“So I think those three sixes and a boundary was probably a little bit of difference as well in the end,” he elaborated.