Middle order will be crucial to India’s success: Virat Kohli (Interview, World Cup Countdown)

By Pragya Tiwari, IANS
Sunday, February 6, 2011

NEW DELHI - It has been a swift climb for Virat Kohli, captain of the Under-19 World Cup winning side in 2007. Graduating into the senior ranks as an “injury replacement”, he is today a vital cog in India’s scheme of things, and sees the middle order to prop the team in the Feb 19-April 2 World Cup.

The 22-year-old Delhiite, the fastest Indian to cross the thousand-run-mark in ODIs, has left a couple of far more talented contemporaries behind, grabbing the opportunities he got. His marvellous attacking flair and consistency during the home series against New Zealand in December and then in the South Africa tour catapulted him to second place in the ODI rankings.

The youngest member of the Indian squad says he is in the midst of a “dream run” and is looking forward to the World Cup at home.

“Every time I think of a World Cup match, I imagine all eleven of us walking out in a packed stadium. I am definitely going to have goosebumps when I go out there.

“I am living a dream. It’s an amazing feeling to be in the World Cup squad. It gives me greater happiness than holding aloft the under-19 trophy. You can imagine how special it is for me,” Kohli told IANS.

Elaborating on his middle-order theory, Kohli says it has been India’s strength in the recent past.

“I think the middle order has to first hold the innings and then guide it. It is our strength now. The strategy should be not to lose too many wickets till the 30-35 overs, and then accelerate the scoring, taking advantage of the last five overs of powerplay. We have won games like this. The idea is to build a solid foundation for even our lower order batsman to come and score.

Despite his impressive debut in Dambulla against Sri Lanka in 2008, Kohli had to serve his waiting period and he got into limelight only when cracked a century at Eden Gardens as India chased a 315-run target against Sri Lanka a year later. He finally arrived, with back-to-back hundreds against Australia and New Zealand last year, showing maturity beyond his age. He was as adept timing his strokes on the bouncy South African pitches as he was on slower Indian tracks.

“I was fortunate to have carried my form to South Africa from the New Zealand series. I picked a few things in the series against Black Caps and applied them in South Africa. I had a game plan and I am happy that worked in South Africa. In fact, I felt my footwork was quite good. I didn’t do anything special, it happened on its own. I was hitting the ball well and generally I enjoyed batting there.

“I learnt not to be too much worried about runs; the best way is to take success and failure alike. That thinking made me more relaxed and I was able to concentrate on my batting.

“Of course, it is easier said than done. In the past I used to raise the bar, putting enormous pressure on myself. Once I started thinking positively without worrying too much about the outcome, my batting improved.

“I don’t like to attack from the first ball, like Yusuf Pathan who can go for a six on the first ball he faces. I take my time before opening up. Ideally, I would like to bat under a little bit of pressure as it keeps me focussed. I prefer to bat under the lights and I am comfortable chasing a score as it gives me a target to pace my innings.”

Kohli, who made his debut courtesy Virender Sehwag’s injury in Sri Lanka, feels he has grown as a middle-order batsman, though he played his first few matches as a last-minute replacement.

“When Sehwag got injured, skipper Dhoni asked me whether I can open the innings and I said yes. I continued to get opportunities only when someone got injured and that gave me a feeling of uncertainty. Thankfully, I did well whenever I got these chances and gradually got into the mix of things.”

Kohli says he chats with Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni, whom he calls a master in analysing situations, about his batting. Gary (Kirsten) is another great help.

“I think every batsman in the team has benifitted from Gary. The fact that he has been a successful batsman not long ago helped as he understands the demands of the game.”

(Pragya Tiwari can be contacted at pragya.t@ians.in)

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