India vs Pakistan: Virat Kohli will be Men in Blue's trump card in crunch ICC Champions Trophy 2017 showdown

Birmingham: There are two ways to look at this whole Virat Kohli-Anil Kumble mess that the Indian team is currently embroiled in. One, everything is hunky-dory and there is no rift. Everyone is getting along fine, and it is the media (particularly back home) that has made up stories on unconfirmed reports, only pouring fuel on a non-existent fire. In a way, it sits well with why the team here is feeling smug (don’t they always?), for it makes everyone else on the outside look stupid.

India's Virat Kohli in action during a Champions Trophy warm-up match against New Zealand May 28. AFP

India's Virat Kohli in action during a Champions Trophy warm-up match against New Zealand May 28. AFP

The other way is to simply assume that everything coming out is true and the BCCI is making a terrible attempt to put a lid on the matter. It could be a simple coincidence that Acting Secretary Amitabh Chaudhary happened to be in Birmingham ahead of the all-important clash with Pakistan. Even COA member Vinod Rai is expected here shortly. Why, you want to think, are two part-time administrators of the board here when they have nothing to contribute in terms of on-field matters. Are they here to put out a fire even if the smoke is invisible?

Bottom-line is that something is not quite right in the Indian camp at the moment. It may not be as big as being portrayed in headlines repeatedly, but it isn’t small enough for two professionals to sit together and sort it out either, it seems. The question to ask here is if, in either scenario, the preparation for the tournament, and a mighty game against Pakistan, has been short-changed.

The format of the Champions Trophy may have altered over the years — from a knockout to a group stage tournament — but it is still a contracted competition. In a group of four, there is every chance that two teams might end up with two wins each. Mathematically, even three teams in a group can finish with two wins each, which in turn put the onus on run-rate.

It shines the spotlight brightly on the Pakistan game. Simply put, it is a must-win game for both. In fact, the first game of this tournament is a must-win for any team. Just ask New Zealand and Australia, who shared points in Birmingham on Friday due to rain. The Kiwis could have finished with two points in their kitty, and made a case for the semi-finals. Now they have been denied by rain, and alternately, the Aussies have a lifeline. It will come down to who beats England, again a knockout for both teams.

Thus both India and Pakistan cannot afford to lose to each other. Unlike Group A, there is no Bangladesh, and even they are not minnows anymore. Sri Lanka are lightweights, but can pounce any moment. And South Africa are perhaps the toughest team in the competition, second-favourites only because England are playing at home. How can a team losing their first game in Group B ever hope of making it to the semi-finals?

The hullabaloo over the coach-captain situation in the Indian camp has allowed Pakistan to completely sail under the limelight. What are their weaknesses? What is their probable line-up? How are they even preparing for this big game? All of these questions have nearly gone unanswered in the build-up to this precious match. Will it give an advantage to Pakistan, who will know that the Indian team — and their captain — will have a point to prove on Sunday?

Kohli doesn’t think so. “There has been a lot of speculation and a lot of things have been written by people who are not part of the change room, or don’t know what is happening there. It is very strange. Writers are doing their job, and we are concentrating on our job. There are no problems whatsoever. I have enjoyed working with Anil Kumble over the last year,” he said, when quizzed about his relationship with the legendary spinner-turned-coach.

At this juncture, it is no longer about what the misunderstanding is, and where, or how it will be resolved. All that matters now is what the Indian skipper is thinking. He is the man under pressure, if that is the choice word to describe anyone in his position. Kohli is the captain, the star batsman, the man who has single-handedly thrashed Pakistan on their last two meetings in ICC events (Adelaide in 2015 ODI World Cup and Kolkata in 2016 World T20), and now, he is in the eye of a storm.

To say Kohli is the central theme of this India-Pakistan encounter would be an understatement. “What is there to handle?” he said when asked about this unique setting in sight of a big game. “You only handle things that you choose to think about. I am not thinking about this (distraction). There is nothing to think about, and nothing to handle,” he added bluntly.

That is the thing about him. Kohli’s elevation in Indian cricket has been meteoric, more than any other Indian cricketer before him. It doesn’t even compare to Sachin Tendulkar’s rise. In the latter’s case, it was about an expectation – everyone saw his genius and it was all about coming good. Thankfully, for Indian cricket, he did.

Kohli, meanwhile, has been through the grind in a different way. He has struggled his way to a permanent spot in the team, and when he proved his mettle, he was quickly — at lightning speed — elevated to hallowed status. Maybe it was because Indian cricket was searching for an alternate hero in the absence of Tendulkar, or maybe, it was just because he is that damn good. The essential point herein being of this adulation and attention he has received, and his reaction to it.

An Indian cricketer is not a simple athlete, particularly Kohli. He has understood this, to his credit, and adapted his situation — both on and off the field — boldly. He comprehends what it means to be a megastar cricketer in India, and knows where this superstardom emanates from. For him, it is all about performance on the field, and in this, he has let his natural being takeover on many occasions. There are simply no inhibitions on the field for him — it is his inviolable place, in a way completely dissimilar to that of Tendulkar.

On Sunday then, it is the single-most underlying reason why Kohli’s performance — both as captain in particular and cricketer in general — is evermore significant in this otherwise ‘routine’ clash against Pakistan.

Updated Date: Jun 04, 2017 09:22 AM

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