Virat Kohli backed Hardik Pandya as a batter down the order even if he is not able to contribute with the ball right away at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup.

Speaking ahead of the blockbuster India-Pakistan clash on Sunday, Kohli also said it will come down to having a strong plan and executing it well against the subcontinent neighbours.

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“We never discussed these things, about our record and past performance,” Kohli told reporters on the eve of the much-anticipated clash in Dubai on Sunday.

“These things create distractions. What matters is how we prepare and execute on that particular day, regardless of the opposition.”

Kohli said regardless of their past dominance Pakistan is and always has been packed with talented players.

“Pakistan, according to me is a very strong team and always has been a strong side,” he said.

“You have to play your best cricket against them, because they have lots of talent and players who can change the game.”

Kohli also said that players need “periodic breaks” from bio-bubble life to refresh themselves as he advocated a balanced approach while dealing with the circumstances arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s necessary to have a balanced approach, it’s important to give players periodic breaks, where they can get mentally refreshed and come into the environment, where they can again compete, this is important, Kohli said, adding that tournaments like IPL and World Cup help keep things interesting because of the number of teams involved.

“Going forward, it’s necessary this thing needs to be considered. I understand that for a long-time cricket has not happened in the world, but to cover up that if you ask a player to risk, I don’t think world cricket will benefit from it,” he added.

“Players need to be communicated where they are placed, what they want. You cannot tell who is mentally at which stage individually in a bio-bubble. If you see 5-6 people (players) happy, you cannot determine that all 15-16 people (players) are feeling the same way.”

Here’s a transcript of what else Kohli had to say ahead of the blockbuster clash on Sunday:

Can you just give us a sense about the sort of stuff that is being tried out with regard to combination over the last week or so, and if you can give us an idea about whether you have chosen the 11?

Yeah, we have spoken about our combinations, obviously. I’m not going to reveal them right now, but we have put in place a very balanced team, and something that we feel covers all bases properly. And we are pretty confident in terms of execution, as well, because the guys have been playing a lot of T20 cricket recently in the IPL and everyone is playing well, so that is a very positive thing for the team.

Now it’s purely down to execution out there in the middle, which everyone as I said is confident to do so and professional enough to understand their roles, and role clarity is something that we have addressed already. We feel very, very prepared.

You surprised everyone with the decision to quit captaincy after the T20 World Cup; you gave a statement on Twitter, but if you could just tell us what prompted you to take such a decision and announce it before the World Cup.

I’ve already explained myself a lot. I don’t think I need to harp on that anymore.

Our focus is to play well in this World Cup and do what we need to do as a team. The rest, I mean, people are trying to dig something that doesn’t exist, and I’m not someone who’s ever going to give order to that. I explained myself very honestly and openly, and if people feel there’s more to it or there’s something that’s not been told, I feel pretty bad for them because that’s certainly not the case.

As you have always maintained that for the team it’s just another game of cricket, but outside the hysteria it creates, sometimes does it get difficult to completely switch off from the atmosphere?

No, it does not. I mean, and it’s a very situational thing because we are in a situation where we are in charge over what we need to do on the team, and we understand for that to happen, we need to be in the most balanced place possible. We feel pressure playing any kind of game, and it’s also a thing to understand that as professional cricketers, you eventually start thinking about the situation that you’re going to be in as batsmen and bowlers, or batters and bowlers, I should say, and it’s very important for us to keep focused on that because a game like this, there’s such unnecessary stuff from a professional point of view happening on the outside there. It’s fine. It’s fine, as long as that stays outside our controlled environment and we just focus on what we need to do as cricketers.

Hence I always maintain that for me it’s never been different to any other game of cricket that we play. Yes, the atmosphere in the stadium is different, and our mindset is no different, our preparations are no different, and our approach to the game is also certainly no different.

Rohit in the last warmup game, he said that hopefully Hardik Pandya will be good enough to bowl a few overs by the time the tournament starts. Just wanted to check if he’s able to bowl now. And secondly, if he doesn’t, does that go against him when it comes to selection, the playing 11? And B, how much will toss be a factor considering in the second half of the evening matches the dew comes into play?

Well, honestly I feel that Hardik presently with his physical condition is getting better in terms of being prepared to bowl at least two overs for us at a certain stage in this tournament, and we believe, we strongly think that we can make the most of the opportunity that we have at hand until the time he starts bowling. We have considered a couple other options to chip in for an over or two. So we are not bothered about that at all.

What he brings at that No. 6 spot is something that you just can’t create overnight, and hence I was always in favour of backing him in Australia as a backer purely, and we saw what he did in the T20 series and how he can take the game away from the opposition when he’s in full flow.

These things from a discussion point of view seem very interesting that if he doesn’t bowl will he be left out, but we understand the value he brings to the team as the No. 6 batter, and in world cricket if you look around, there are specialists who do that job, and it’s very important to have that guy, especially in T20 cricket, who can play and impact innings of that stage. Even when the chips are down, he’s someone who can play a long innings playing in that way.

For us that is way more valuable than forcing him to do something that he’s not ready for at the moment, but he’s motivated and he’s very keen to start giving us a couple of overs, and when that happens, obviously the balance becomes even better, but we are pretty confident how we are heading into the start of this tournament.

Over the years we’ve seen that whenever it’s an India-Pakistan contest, it’s generally the Pakistan bowlers versus the Indian batsmen. But this time around, obviously the Indian team itself has some of the best bowlers in the business. As a captain, how confident are you going into the game when you have a bowling lineup like that?

We try and go into any game with absolute preparation, understanding of our plans, what we need to do against the opposition, and as long as we do that, we go in confident against any team in the world anywhere.

So for me to say that now we have great bowlers and we didn’t have great bowlers before, I mean, we have won in T20 World Cups every time we have played them, so if it was only a case of our bowling being weak, then we probably shouldn’t have won those games.

So I don’t think on those lines. For me what matters is how the individuals are playing at that particular time, and what I can say is that all the people in the team are playing their roles to perfection, are executing their plans really, really well, and that gives us a lot of confidence heading into this tournament.

You have seen the 30-odd matches played in the IPL and seen the quality of the pitches at all three venues. You are going to play many of your matches in Dubai and one in Abu Dhabi. Do you think within the last 10 days much work would have gone on the pitch, and will there be a significant change in the quality of the pitches?

I believe so. Looking at the IPL finals, I believe that the quality of pitches definitely is going to be far better in this T20 World Cup. Also it being an ICC tournament, we know that the standard of pitches has to be maintained to a certain degree which is consistent across all venues, and I understand that to protect the pitches for a tournament like the World Cup, there had to be some kind of compromising done with the playing conditions when we played the IPL. We all understood that, and the wicket in the IPL finals was very, very good.

I think someone asked me about the dew factor, as well, and whether the toss was going to be important. I think the dew factor is becoming prominent as we head into this time of the year in Dubai, and that is also going to help the pitches play much better. I presume Abu Dhabi and Dubai are probably going to be the best pitches out of all the venues, and Sharjah more or less will stay true to its true nature, which is slow and low. I don’t see many high scoring unless dew becomes such a massive factor there, as well, but yeah, wickets will be much better in this tournament.

Transcript courtesy: ICC Business Corporation FZ LLC 2020 via Online Media Zone.

With AFP and PTI inputs